New Grants Seed Future Research Advances

Veronique Belzil​, Ph.D.

Pursuing new and innovative lines of research is often a “chicken or the egg” scenario. Researchers can’t secure funding without data, but it’s difficult—if not impossible—to collect data without funding.

Thanks to our Seed Grant Program, 16 ALS researchers now have up to $50,000 each to gather the preliminary data they need to propel their research in promising new directions, which can ultimately lead to new treatment options, approaches that optimize current care, or ways to help prevent ALS altogether.

Seed Grant projects might start small, but they are based on big ideas that could make a significant impact for the ALS community.”
Dr. Paul Larkin
director of research at the ALS Association

Dr. Paul Larkin, director of research at the ALS Association, said, “Researchers leverage the preliminary data they collect through these projects to apply for larger grants or spark industry interest to carry the work forward. That way, the value of our small grants—and the benefits to people living with ALS—are multiplied.”

Our most recent recipients were selected from a large, highly competitive group of applicants based at prominent academic institutions around the globe. Their projects explore a diverse set of topics ranging from identifying genetic risk factors and potential new biomarkers to developing new treatment approaches and ways to prevent serious complications.

2023 Seed Grant Recipients

  • Azlina Ahmad-Annuar​, Ph.D., University of Malaya​, to establish the first dedicated ALS bioinformatics center in Malaysia, which will help uncover genetic factors involved in the development of the disease in people with Malaysian/Southeast Asian ancestry.
     
  • Jimena Andersen​, Ph.D., Emory University​, to advance the development of a new human cell-based model system that can be used to study what causes ALS to develop and progress at the molecular, cellular, and network levels.
     
  • Veronique Belzil​, Ph.D. (pictured above), Vanderbilt University, to identify an ALS-specific “genetic footprint” based on changes in DNA linked to biological age, which could be used as a biomarker and help predict ALS risk.
  • Susan D’Andrea​, Ph.D., University of Rhode Island, to help diagnose ALS earlier by looking at changes in walking patterns and/or motor unit activation and deactivation using a unique combination of technologies.
     
  • Michael Gotsbacher​, Ph.D., The University of Sydney, to create a library of potential new therapeutic tools that only (or at least preferentially) attach to abnormal clumps of an important protein called TDP-43 but not to normal, healthy TDP-43.
     
  • Image
    Stephen Johnson
    Stephen Johnson​, M.D.,
    2023 Seed Grant Recipient

    Stephen Johnson​, M.D., Mayo Clinic Arizona, to explore whether data collected remotely via a ring device worn by people with ALS can detect pneumonia and other pulmonary events, which could help prevent severe complications.
     

  • Christi Kolarcik​, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, to determine how different types of muscles are affected by ALS and whether specific types of muscles are more vulnerable to deterioration.
     
  • Katharina Linse​, Ph.D., Technische Universität Dresden, to survey people living with ALS and caregivers across Germany to help improve care and support in line with their needs.
     
  • Patrick Oeckl​, Ph.D., German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen)​, to investigate a potential new ALS biomarker called MAP2 by developing a way to measure this protein in the blood and then identifying any changes in MAP2 blood levels in a small group of people with ALS.
     
  • April Pyle​, Ph.D., University of California​ Los Angeles​, to identify drugs that may help improve neuromuscular junction and skeletal muscle function as well as to explore the therapeutic potential of Schwann cells, which play a central role in protecting and supporting the function of long nerve fibers called axons.
     
  • Katarzyna Raczynska​, Ph.D., Adam Mickiewicz University (Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu)​, to analyze the effects an ALS-linked change in the FUS gene has on a protein called U7 snRNA/snRNP, which may allow mobile genetic elements called retrotransposons to “jump” to different DNA locations more frequently.
     
  • Lauren Tabor Gray, Ph.D., Nova Southeastern University, to comprehensively assess and characterize oral health in people living with ALS, a first step in creating an evidence-based standard of care that could help reduce the risk of complications associated with poor oral hygiene.​
     
  • Christine Vande Velde​, Ph.D., Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, to find out if designer DNA molecules called antisense oligonucleotides can be used to restore proper stress granule dynamics, an essential cell protection mechanism that becomes faulty as ALS develops.​
     
  • Haohan Zhang​, Ph.D., The University of Utah, to test three different methods for controlling a neck exoskeleton in a small group of people living with ALS who have developed head drop.
     
  • Yue Zhao​, Ph.D., University of Michigan, to analyze specific RNA modifications in the blood of people with living with ALS by locating where they occur, measuring how often they occur, and seeing how they relate to environmental risk factors and ALS progression.
     
  • Qiang Zhu​, Ph.D., Van Andel Research Institute, to develop a new gene therapy approach targeted at the segment of the C9orf72 gene that is linked to both ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

We made a promise to the ALS community: We will make ALS livable for everyone, everywhere, until a cure is found. And it is initial research like this that makes breakthroughs possible.

The application period for our 2024 Seed Grants is currently open. Interested researchers should submit a letter of intent by April 9, 2024, 5 p.m. US ET. Click here for full application instructions.

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