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Scientific News

FARA funds research progress

In this section, you will find the most recent FA research publications, many of which are funded by FARA, as well as information on upcoming conferences and symposiums. You can search for articles by date using the archive box in the right hand column. To locate FARA Funded or Supported Research, click the hyperlink in the right hand column. You may also search for specific content using key words or phrases in the search button at the top right of your screen. Please be sure to visit other key research sections of our website for information on FARA’s Grant Program and the Treatment Pipeline.



Mesenchymal Stem Cell-Derived Factors Restore Function to Human Frataxin-Deficient Cells

Friedreich's ataxia is an inherited neurological disorder characterised by mitochondrial dysfunction and increased susceptibility to oxidative stress. At present, no therapy has been shown to reduce disease progression. Strategies being trialled to treat Friedreich's ataxia include drugs that improve mitochondrial function and reduce oxidative injury. In addition, stem cells have been investigated as a potential therapeutic approach. We have used siRNA-induced knockdown of frataxin in SH-SY5Y cells as an in vitro cellular model for Friedreich's ataxia. Knockdown of frataxin protein expression to levels detected in patients with the disorder was achieved, leading to decreased cellular viability, increased susceptibility to hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative stress, dysregulation of key anti-oxidant molecules and deficiencies in both cell proliferation and differentiation. Bone marrow stem cells are being investigated extensively as potential treatments for a wide range of neurological disorders, including Friedreich's ataxia. The potential neuroprotective effects of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells were therefore studied using our frataxin-deficient cell model. Soluble factors secreted by mesenchymal stem cells protected against cellular changes induced by frataxin deficiency, leading to restoration in frataxin levels and anti-oxidant defences, improved survival against oxidative stress and stimulated both cell proliferation and differentiation down the Schwann cell lineage. The demonstration that mesenchymal stem cell-derived factors can restore cellular homeostasis and function to frataxin-deficient cells further suggests that they may have potential therapeutic benefits for patients with Friedreich's ataxia.

Read more HERE

Frataxin Deficiency Impairs Mitochondrial Biogenesis in Cells, Mice and Humans

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by inherited deficiency of the mitochondrial protein Frataxin (FXN), which has no approved therapy and is an area in which biomarkers are needed for clinical development. Here we investigated the consequences of FXN deficiency in patient derived FRDA fibroblast cell models, the FRDA mouse model KIKO, and in whole blood collected from FRDA patients. We observed decreased mitochondrial copy number in all the three FRDA models tested: cells, mice and patient blood. In addition we observed 40% residual mitochondrial gene expression in FRDA patient blood. These deficiencies of mitochondrial biogenesis in FRDA cells and patient blood are significantly correlated with FXN expression, consistent with the idea that the decreased mitochondrial biogenesis is a consequence of FXN deficiency. The observations appear relevant to the FRDA pathophysiological mechanism, as FXN-dependent deficiency in mitochondrial biogenesis and consequent mitochondrial bioenergetic defect could contribute to the neurodegenerative process. The observations may also have translational potential, as mitochondrial biogenesis could now be followed as a clinical biomarker of FRDA as a correlate of disease severity, progression, and therapeutic effect. Also, mitochondrial copy number in blood is objective, scalar and more investigator-independent than clinical-neurological patient rating scales. Thus, FXN deficiency causes mitochondrial deficiency in FRDA cells, the KIKO mouse model, and in whole blood of FRDA patients, and this deficiency could potentially be used in clinical trial design.

Read more HERE

Longitudinal gait and balance decline in Friedreich's Ataxia: A pilot study

There is a great need for better measures to objectively document changes in disease progression for Friedreich's Ataxia. The purpose of this pilot study was to analyze longitudinal changes in gait and balance in subjects with FA using the GAITRite Walkway System® and Biodex Balance System™, respectively, and to test the ability of these measures to detect change over time compared to the Friedreich's Ataxia Rating Scale (FARS).

This was a 24-month longitudinal study comparing ambulatory FA subjects with age- and gender-matched, healthy controls. Eight FA subjects and 8 controls were tested at regular intervals using the GAITRite and Biodex Balance systems and the FARS.

In the FA group, comfortable and fast gait velocity declined 8.0% and 13.9% after 12 months and 24.1% and 30.3% after 24 months, respectively. Postural stability indices increased in FA subjects an average of 41% from baseline to 24 months, representing a decline in balance. Subjects with FA also demonstrated a 17.7% increase in FARS neurological exam scores over 24 months. There were no changes in gait or balance variables in controls. In the FA group, multiple gait and balance measures correlated significantly with FARS neurological exam scores.

The GAITRite and Biodex Balance systems provided objective and clinically relevant measures of functional decline in subjects with FA that correlated significantly with performance measures in the FARS. Gait velocity may be an important objective measure to identify disease progression in adults with FA.

Read more HERE

No changes in heme synthesis in human Friedreich´s ataxia erythroid progenitor cells

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by reduced expression of the protein frataxin. Frataxin is thought to play a role in iron-sulfur cluster biogenesis and heme synthesis. In this study, we used erythroid progenitor stem cells obtained from FRDA patients and healthy donors to investigate the putative role, if any, of frataxin deficiency in heme synthesis. FRDA patient cells showed no significant changes in iron levels, hemoglobin synthesis, protoporphyrin IX levels, and ferrochelatase activity. Microarray analysis presented 11 genes that were significantly changed in all patients compared to controls. The genes are especially involved in oxidative stress, iron homeostasis and angiogenesis. The mystery about the involvement of frataxin on iron metabolism raises the question why frataxin deficiency in primary FRDA cells did not lead to changes in biochemical parameters of heme synthesis. It seems that alternative pathways can circumvent the impact of frataxin deficiency on heme synthesis. We show for the first time in primary FRDA patient cells that reduced frataxin levels are still sufficient for heme synthesis and possibly other mechanisms can overcome reduced frataxin levels in this process. Our data strongly support the fact that so far no anemia in FRDA patients was reported.

Read more HERE

FARA Job Posting: Research Director

Click to view PDF
FARA is seeking a full time Research Director.
Please click HERE for more information.

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