$2.5M Awarded to Investigate Mechanisms Linking Neurodegenerative Diseases to Infections

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by Patricia Inacio PhD |

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A new research project that will investigate the seemingly unrelated mechanisms between neurodegenerative diseases and infections has been awarded $2.5 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).

The funding was awarded to Ivan Marazzi, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

The grant follows Marazzi’s research showing how certain mutations that increase the risk for infections also may contribute to an increased predisposition for developing neurodegenerative diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Marazzi’s research is studying mechanisms that regulate gene expression, both regarding chromatin-mediated mechanisms and at the epigenetic level — external modifications to DNA to turn genes on or off that do not change the actual DNA sequence — and their response to infections or cellular differentiation.

“I am honored to receive this prestigious award and look forward to working closely with my colleagues in an effort to reach scientific breakthroughs that will help millions of people suffering from these diseases,” Marazzi said in a press release.

“CZI recognizes the importance of cross-disciplinary approaches to study neurodegenerative disorders and improve health for mankind,” he added.

In total, the CZI has committed to funding up to $64 million to early-career investigators and science teams as part of the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network, which promotes collaborations between researchers from different fields —  neuroscience, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology, and genomics.

“To fill gaps in our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, we need to support new approaches, explore new ideas, and help experts connect across disciplines,” said CZI head of science Cori Bargmann, PhD.

“We’re excited to welcome the first group of CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network grantees. Together, their work will increase our knowledge of the basic biology of these diseases — and we need that knowledge to develop better treatments,” Bargmann said.

The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network aims to further the understanding of the mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases and to promote a broad and multidisciplinary view of these diseases. The goal is to enhance the possibility of developing new therapies and strategies for disease prevention.

“Despite tremendous investment and progress in understanding these diseases, there remains a surprising amount of very basic information about their biology that we don’t know,” said CZI science program officer Katja Brose, PhD.

“By supporting these interdisciplinary collaborations and generating shared tools, resources, and platforms, we hope to inspire a new approach to tackling neurodegenerative disease — one that leverages the combined power of basic science and technology to accelerate progress towards clinical goals,” Brose said.