On July 9, FARA Ambassadors Christin Haun, Emily Penn, and Andrea Kiess and their families visited the Bidichandani Lab at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. They are doing some amazing research on Friedreich's Ataxia!
Dr. Sanjay Bidichandani, and the researchers at the Bidichandani lab shared time, and information with us. Dr. B. has 20+ years’ experience in a FA research lab setting. He assisted on the Massimo Pandolfo team, who discovered the FA gene in 1996. He has since contributed to the study of the molecular pathogenesis of the disease, focusing on GAA triplet-repeat sequence in order to decipher the precise molecular mechanism(s) underlying Friedreich Ataxia. The thing that caught my ear was that the Bidichandani lab has been able to raise frataxin levels on a cellular level.
Accredited lab member, Yogesh Chutake, PhD, said, “To summarize the work we do, I would say that we in the Bidichandani lab are trying to fully comprehend the molecular switches that are turned off in FA, which ultimately lead to deficiency of frataxin protein. Understanding these molecular switches will enable us to test, improve, and rationally design potential therapeutic molecules that can help people with FA.”
Currently, Dr. Bidichandani is part of the FARA Scientific Advisory Board, and is part of the FARA family. I would encourage anyone with FA, and their families to visit the lab. The lab members are kind, courteous, extremely knowledgeable, and engaged.
Every time I see someone bring light to the FARA mission, whether it’s someone reposting a Facebook memo, volunteering at an event, writing a donation check, speaking words of encouragement or in this case, dedicating most of their time, focus, energy, and heart to find treatments and a cure for Friedreich’s Ataxia, it intensifies the warmth and depth of the embrace of my hugs and love.
It was such a remarkable privilege to be able to tour and interact with Dr. B and his lab crew in the intimate setting of his laboratory. As I scanned the lab observing the many tubes of blood and millions of skin cells from FA patients, it etched a definitive memory in my mind knowing that a profound goal was going to be met in the very near future. I could not help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude and thanks, not just for Dr. B and his team, but also for the FA community. It is so true that researchers cannot do their job (it’s clearly not just a job) without the dedication from the community they are trying to serve. And we all know it’s a two-way street!
My fiancé Tye and I drove 3.5 hours to have the opportunity to tour the lab, but truthfully, we would have driven ten times that amount, no questions asked!
When Christin emailed the Ambassador Program to invite us to tour a lab in Oklahoma City that studies FA, I was excited. I knew a FARA board member lived in OKC, but had no idea he had a lab that studied the FA gene less than 3 hours from my house. So, my family drove down from Kansas and Emily and her fiancé drove up from Texas to meet Christin and her family.
Dr. B and his lab assistants are dedicated to discovering everything they can about FA. They do not develop medications in this lab. They study the genes and cells and work with pharmaceutical companies to discuss with them what they need medications to do. The staff at FARA has a big role in connecting the pharmaceutical companies and Dr. B's lab (which makes me even happier that FARA is on my side!).
I learned a lot from Dr. B. It was a fun and interesting visit. If you are close to OKC (or even if you're far away), I'd encourage you to visit the Bidichandani Lab!