Associate Professor Lawrence Reiter of UTHSC Receives $108,000 Grant for Autism-Related Syndrome Research

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A new $108,000 grant from the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research will allow Dr. Lawrence Reiter (pictured with Department of Neurology research assistant Sarita Goorha) to investigate gene expression changes in the nerve cells of individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome.

Lawrence Reiter, PhD, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $108,000 from the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research. The purpose of the study is to use a dental pulp stem cell system developed by Dr. Reiter to find gene expression changes in the nerve cells of individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome, both with and without autism. The outcome of this research could potentially identify therapeutic targets for the treatment of both Prader-Willi syndrome and autism in the future.

Dr. Reiter is an associate professor in the Departments of Neurology, Pediatrics, as well as Anatomy and Neurobiology in the UTHSC College of Medicine.

Dr. Reiter’s laboratory has been using stem cells extracted from the dental pulp of primary or “baby” teeth to make nerve cells. He uses these nerves to study several different syndromes related to autism such as 15q Duplication syndrome, the presence of an extra chromosome that can lead to developmental disabilities; and Angelman syndrome, a neurogenetic disorder often misdiagnosed as autism or cerebral palsy that causes developmental delay and seizures along with other health problems. Dr. Reiter’s latest interest is Prader-Willi syndrome, a disorder that is the leading genetic cause of childhood obesity. The syndrome is also known to cause intellectual disabilities.

The project is titled “Gene Expression Analysis in PWS Subject Derived Dental Pulp Stem Cell Neurons.” The funds will be distributed over one year with the option for renewal.

“The impact of this work will be twofold,” said Dr. Reiter. “First, we will gain a better understanding of the underlying cause of Prader-Willi syndrome in neurons, and second, we will broaden our understanding of syndromic forms of autism, which is a major focus of my research efforts.”

The mission of the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research is to eliminate the challenges of Prader-Willi syndrome through the advancement of research. High-quality research will lead to more effective treatments and an eventual cure for this disorder. For more information, visit http://www.fpwr.org.