2023 FARA Fellow Awards

In 2023, the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA) established the FARA Fellow Program with a grant from the Cushman Foundation. The aim of the program is to attract and retain talented young scientists to the FA research field by providing mentorship, training, and networking opportunities.

The FARA Fellow Program recognizes young investigators who will commit their early career to FA research and want to grow their profile within the research community, with a cash award and opportunity to attend scientific conferences. Awardees are postdoctoral trainees who have demonstrated or hold promise for outstanding research achievements in FA.

As FARA Fellows, trainees are invited to attend round table discussions with other Fellows, present at the FARA Forum and at the FARA Flash Talks, and contribute their FA knowledge and results of their research to the FA CollaMap, a collaborative map of current knowledge about FA.

The application consists of a nomination letter from the trainee’s PI briefly describing the trainee’s qualities and research accomplishments and the trainee’s CV. FARA received several nominations and after reviewing the applications, the Scientific Review Committee recommended 4 Junior researchers. FARA’s Executive Committee approved awarding the following 2023 FARA Fellows:

Sujyoti Chandra

Mentor: Xinnan Wang Stanford University School of Medicine, CA

Dr. Chandra is a 5th year postdoc who has been working for one year with Dr. Wang on her FARA funded grant titled “Novel Mitochondrial Targets for Friedreich’s ataxia”. The focus of Dr. Chandra’s research is studying mitochondrial function and dynamics in sensory neurons derived from FA patient induced pluripotent stem cells, with the goal of identifying novel signaling pathways and molecular targets that are relevant to therapeutic intervention. Dr. Chandra has five first author publications on pre-clinical testing of candidate drugs for neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer’s disease, Batten disease) from her Ph.D. research at Rush University in Chicago with Dr. Kalipada Pahan. Dr. Wang describes Dr. Chandra as an exceptionally creative and productive scientist with great leadership potential, who is motivated to develop new strategies for treatment of rare diseases such as FA.

Sujyoti Chandra

Xiaonan Guan

Mentor: Shawn Liu University of Columbia, NY

Dr Guan is a 3rd year postdoc working on the Liu/de Nooij FARA funded grant titled “Rescue of Friedreich’s Ataxia cells by DNA methylation editing of the FXN gene”. The focus of her research is to apply the epigenomic editing tool developed in the Liu lab to reactivate the FXN gene and rescue FA iPSC-derived sensory neurons. Dr. Guan obtained her PhD in Genetics at the Beijing Institute of Genomics, Chinese Academy of Sciences and has two first author publications, one with Dr. Liu on epigenome editing for Rett Syndrome. Dr. Liu describes Dr. Guan as talented and dedicated to scientific research with tremendous potential to be an independent investigator and make innovative contributions to the FA field.

Xiaonan Guan

Changfan Lin

Mentor: Viviana Gradinaru Caltech, CA

Dr. Lin is a 2nd year postdoc with Dr. Gradinaru (Professor in the Caltech Division of Biology and Biological Engineering), who is a highly regarded expert in engineering new AAV vectors with enhanced brain tropism. In October 2022 Dr. Lin was awarded a FARA Postdoctoral Fellowship titled “Engineering adeno-associated viral vectors to evade immune responses”, which is focused on developing AAVs that evade neutralizing antibodies and have FA-relevant tissue specificity, and received enthusiastic reviews. Dr. Lin obtained his PhD at Cornell University and has three first author publications from his Ph.D. research on circadian rhythm proteins in Drosophila. Dr. Gradinaru describes Dr. Lin as a dedicated and promising researcher who has made impressive achievements in her lab and shows exceptional promise and potential to enable effective gene therapy for FA.

Changfan Lin

Pouiré Yameogo

Mentor: Marek Napierala UT Southwestern, Dallas TX

Dr Yameogo recently completed his Ph.D. with Dr. Jacques Tremblay (Université Laval, Quebec City) and has accepted a postdoctoral researcher position with Dr. Napierala. The focus of his Ph.D. research was developing a gene therapy approach for FA by deleting the expanded GAA repeat in the FXN gene and he has a first author FA publication on this work titled “Removal of the GAA repeat in the heart of a Friedreich’s ataxia mouse model using CjCas9”. The Napierala lab is dedicated to FA research and Dr. Yameogo will receive outstanding mentorship for his research goal, which is to contribute towards development of therapies for FA. Dr. Yameogo‘s project will focus on the development of antisense oligonucleotides as therapeutics for FA. Dr. Napierala describes Dr. Yameogo as having a deep knowledge of FA, including familiarity with both cellular and mouse models, and showing a strong drive and dedication towards developing therapeutic strategies for FA.

Pouire Yameogo
FARA Fellows on a Zoom call

The group met in August 2023 to discuss activities for 2023 and 2024

The fellows introduced themselves and shared that they felt honored by the award and expressed their gratitude. They all agreed that this will help their career and repeated their interest in continuing to study FA.

All 4 fellows committed to participating in the FARA symposium in Philadelphia where they will present their research projects to the patient community.

The Fellows are planning the following monthly activities for 2023 and 2024

  • A journal club, where the Fellows and FARA’s research team will review and discuss recently published papers of high impact for FA r esearch and therapeutic development
  • A mentorship program, where the Fellows will meet FA researchers from academia and industry, members of FARA’s staff and FARA’s Board and representatives of other scientific carrier paths
  • Meet the community events, where the Fellows will have the opportunity to talk to FARA ambassadors and get more connected to the patient experience.

It is FARA’s hope that over the years this program will expand the FA community with scientists and professionals that are dedicated to finding treatments for FA and are deeply connected to each other and FA patients.

The 2023 FARA Fellows attended the rideATAXIA and FARA symposium in Philadelphia in October 2023.

Here, the FARA Fellow pose for a photo at the finish line of rideATAXIA after finishing a walk with the community.

Picture of the 2023 FARA Fellows at rideATAXIA Philly

FARA Fellows at the FA Symposium

They spoke about their research during the symposium and their presentations were well received by attendees. After the symposium, they all expressed their excitement for having met FA families and their continuous commitment to FA research. They were all motivated by the experience. In their own words:

Sujyoti Chandra: “Thank you so much for inviting us to participate in the symposium. It was an amazing experience to meet everyone, get to know the families and learn about the latest drug development in the field.”

Xiaonan Guan: “Thanks FARA for offering us such an excellent and warm trip.  Having a chance to meet the patients and their families also give me a lot of motivation to do more FA related studies. It’s so nice to meet you and all the FARA fellows in person.”

Changfan Lin: “Thanks for having us at the symposium. We will never forget the moments to meet patients and connect with the community. It will keep reminding us the significance of FA research and motivating us through challenges.”

Pouire Yameogo: “It was an excellent learning and sharing meeting. Very well organized and it was a real pleasure to participate.”

In 2024 the Fellows will help FARA in identifying approaches to enrich the current FA treatment pipeline. The Fellows will review the background literature and together with the FARA research team, assess the landscape of potential drug targets modifiable by small molecule therapeutics, and help FARA prioritizing putative treatments for FA.