FightSMA and Gwendolyn Strong Foundation today named the first five grantees in their “Emerging Investigator Awards”.  The awards, conceived jointly by the two organizations, are designed to draw strong, innovative talent into SMA research.

The Emerging Investigator Awards are designed to provide initial support for an outstanding idea from a junior investigator. This type of seed money can be particularly difficult to obtain in today’s climate, and the EI Awards will help spark transformative ideas into reality.

During the program’s first year, FightSMA and GSF received 24 excellent applications from across the globe (US, Canada, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and the UK.) Ultimately, five outstanding candidates were identified and were announced during this weekend’s FightSMA Annual Research Conference in Washington, D.C.  Here are images of the grantees and details about their research:

Dr. Lyndsay Murray of Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Dr. Lyndsay Murray of Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Program title: Development of Rho-Kinase inhibitors as a therapeutic for SMA
Dr. Murray’s research focuses on understanding the basic biology of spinal muscular atrophy and in the development of Smn independent therapeutics. This project specifically looks at how modulation of the pathways which control actin dynamics can influence disease progression in mouse models of SMA.

Dr. Steven Crone of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Dr. Steven Crone of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Program title: A circuit mechanism of degeneration in mouse models of SMA
The goal of Dr. Crone’s research is to understand how the spinal circuitry that controls motor neurons is disrupted in SMA and to determine how disrupted motor circuitry contributes to pathology of SMA.


Dr. Constantin d’Ydewalle of Johns Hopkins University

Program title: Long non-coding RNAs as new therapeutic targets for spinal muscular atrophy
Dr. d’Ydewalle is investigating how long non-protein-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) control SMN expression. To this end, he is using patient-derived cell lines as well as the SMA mouse model. He hypothesizes that interfering with the expression of lncRNAs increases SMN expression. Eventually, he believes that lncRNAs represent an innovative and promising therapeutic target for SMA.


Dr. Kevin Foust of the Ohio State University

Dr. Kevin Foust of the Ohio State University

Program title: Investigating Enteric Nervous System Function in Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Dr. Foust is investigating the gastrointestinal function in two new models of SMA. He wants to understand the role of SMN within the neurons that control GI motility.


Dr. Hansjorg Rindt of University of Missouri

Dr. Hansjorg Rindt of University of Missouri

Program title: Astrocytes as novel determinant of disease progression in spinal muscular atrophy
Astrocytes are cells in the central nervous system that supply neurons with growth factors and energy. In SMA, this function of astrocytes is disrupted, and this may affect the activity and survival of motor neurons in the spinal cord. Dr. Rindt’s research is aimed at restoring proper astrocyte activity which in turn will have a positive effect on the function of motor neurons.

Congratulations to our five grantees!  Each of them receives $25,000 for their work, and after six months, they will compete for two $62,500 grants that would cover one-year research projects.

For more information, read our news release on the EI Awards.  For more information on the FightSMA Annual Research Conference, including the annual webcast, click here.