Michael McDonald Receives Grant to Further Gene Therapy Research

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Michael McDonald, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Neurology, and Anatomy and Neurobiology at UTHSC, has received a grant totaling $910,200 from the National Institute on Aging, a subsidiary of the NIH.

Michael McDonald, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Neurology, and Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a grant totaling $910,200 from the National Institute on Aging, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health. The award will fund a study on the use of gene therapy to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The study titled, “GD3 Synthase Gene Therapy to Improve Memory and Prevent Neurodegeneration,” will be conducted over a three-year period.

The project is an extension of Dr. McDonald’s research showing that targeted deletion of the GD3 synthase (GD3S) gene improves memory, prevents neurodegeneration, and reduces plaque formation in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. McDonald recently found that this new GD3S-based genetic therapy can protect against neurodegeneration in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease.

“We were thrilled to get this new grant,” said Dr. McDonald. “It’s an indication that the NIH values our work and that our new genetic therapy holds promise.”

The treatment should fully protect the slowly dying neurons in the Alzheimer’s model. This approach is different from other treatments for Alzheimer’s disease since it protects the dying neurons rather than attacking the amyloid plaques (protein buildup outside nerve cells or neurons) that accumulate in patients’ brains and cause the disease.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.