Researcher Awarded NIH Grant to Study Degenerative Syndrome

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Ioannis Dragatsis, PhD, assistant professor of physiology, has been awarded a $143,348 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to generate a mouse model for Familial Dysautonomia (FD), also known as Riley-Day syndrome.

Ioannis Dragatsis, PhD, assistant professor of physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been awarded a $143,348 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to generate a mouse model for Familial Dysautonomia (FD), also known as Riley — Day syndrome.

“FD is an inherited syndrome that affects the sensory and autonomic nervous system. Symptoms become present at birth and gradually worsen throughout their lifetime. This debilitating disorder is seen most often in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, where it appears in one of every 3,600 live births, though it is uncommon in the general population,” said Dr. Dragatsis.

Symptoms of the disorder include, but are not limited to, poor growth, difficulty eating, recurrent pneumonia, and postural hypotension. A trademark of FD is an inability to feel pain. Treatments are available to control some of the symptoms, but there is no cure for this syndrome.

“Gathering reliable data from humans is impossible due to the progressive degeneration caused by this disease. However, affected tissue can be collected and studied at different developmental stages from a mouse model,” said Dr. Dragatsis, noting that this research can lead to more effective treatments and new drugs.

Dr. Dragatsis received his PhD from the University of Athens, Greece and completed his postdoctoral research in the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University in New York. Currently, he is manager/director of the UTHSC Transgenic/chimeric Mouse Facility, a member of the UTHSC Center of Excellence in Genomics and Bioinformatics, and a member of the UTHSC Neuroscience Institute.