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FARA Funded Research

Your generous support has funded all the research listed below.


For more information on FARA-funded research & scientists, please visit FARA Supported Research, Active Clinical Trials and the Featured Scientist.

An Overview of the Ferroptosis Hallmarks in Friedreich's Ataxia

Friedreich's ataxia (FRDA) is caused by reduced levels of frataxin, a mitochondrial protein involved in the synthesis of iron-sulfur clusters, leading to iron accumulation at the mitochondrial level, uncontrolled production of reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxidation. These features are also common to ferroptosis, an iron-mediated type of cell death triggered by accumulation of lipoperoxides with distinct morphological and molecular characteristics with respect to other known cell deaths. Even though ferroptosis has been associated with various neurodegenerative diseases including FRDA, the mechanisms leading to disease onset/progression have not been demonstrated yet. Here the authors describe the molecular alterations occurring in FRDA that overlap with those characterizing ferroptosis. The study of ferroptotic pathways is necessary for the understanding of FRDA pathogenesis, and anti-ferroptotic drugs could be envisaged as therapeutic strategies to cure FRDA.

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Assessment of Disease Progression in Friedreich Ataxia using an Instrumented Self Feeding Activity

In Friedreich ataxia (FRDA), it is important to monitor the progression of ataxia over periods of time for clinical and therapeutic interventions. This study was aimed at investigating the use of the instrumented measurement scheme of utilizing a motion detecting spoon in a self-feeding activity to quantify the longitudinal effect of FRDA on upper limb function. Forty individuals diagnosed with FRDA (32.8±14.9 years old) were recruited in a 12-month longitudinal study consisting of equal number of males and females (20). A set of biomarkers was extracted from the temporal and texture analysis of the movement time series data that objectively detected subtle changes during follow-up testing. The results indicated that both analyses generated features that resembled clinical ratings. Although the diagnosis and severity related performances were readily observed by temporal features, the longitudinal progression was better captured by the textural features (p = 0.029). The estimation of severity by mean of random forest regression model and LASSO exhibited a high degree of parity with the standard clinical scale (rho = 0.73, p < 0.001).

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Extra-mitochondrial mouse frataxin and its implications for mouse models of Friedreich's ataxia

Numerous studies of mitochondrial dysfunction in Friedreich's ataxia have been conducted using mouse models of frataxin deficiency. However, mouse frataxin that is reduced in these models, is assumed to be mature frataxin (78-207) by analogy with human mature frataxin (81-210). Using immunoaffinity purification coupled with liquid chromatography-high resolution tandem mass spectrometry, this study finds that mature frataxin in mouse heart (77%), brain (86%), and liver (47%) is predominantly a 129-amino acid truncated mature frataxin (79-207) in which the N-terminal lysine residue has been lost. Mature mouse frataxin (78-207) only contributes 7-15% to the total frataxin protein present in mouse tissues. The authors have also found that truncated mature frataxin (79-207) is present primarily in the cytosol of mouse liver; whereas, frataxin (78-207) is primarily present in the mitochondria. These findings, which provide support for the role of extra-mitochondrial frataxin in the etiology of Friedreich's ataxia, also have important implications for studies of mitochondrial dysfunction conducted in mouse models of frataxin deficiency.

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A Highly Conserved Iron-Sulfur Cluster Assembly Machinery between Humans and Amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum: The Characterization of Frataxin

This group proposes to use the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, as a biological model to study the biosynthesis of Iron-Sulfur Clusters ([Fe-S]) at the molecular, cellular and organism levels. First, they have explored the D. discoideum genome looking for genes corresponding to the subunits that constitute the molecular machinery for Fe-S cluster assembly and, based on the structure of the mammalian supercomplex and amino acid conservation profiles, inferred the full functionality of the amoeba machinery. The recombinant mature form of D. discoideum frataxin protein (DdFXN), the kinetic activator of this pathway, was expressed and characterized. DdFXN is monomeric and compact. The analysis of the secondary structure content, calculated using the far-UV CD spectra, was compatible with the data expected for the FXN fold, and near-UV CD spectra were compatible with the data corresponding to a folded protein. In addition, Tryptophan fluorescence indicated that the emission occurs from an apolar environment. However, the conformation of DdFXN is significantly less stable than that of the human FXN, (4.0 vs. 9.0 kcal mol-1, respectively). Based on a sequence analysis and structural models of DdFXN, this study investigated key residues involved in the interaction of DdFXN with the supercomplex and the effect of point mutations on the energetics of the DdFXN tertiary structure. More than 10 residues involved in Friedreich's Ataxia are conserved between the human and DdFXN forms, and a good correlation between mutational effect on the energetics of both proteins were found, suggesting the existence of similar sequence/function/stability relationships. Finally, this information was integrated in an evolutionary context which highlights particular variation patterns between amoeba and humans that may reflect a functional importance of specific protein positions. Moreover, the complete pathway obtained forms a piece of evidence in favor of the hypothesis of a shared and highly conserved [Fe-S] assembly machinery between Human and D. discoideum.

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Global, multi-stakeholder, consortium launched to study neuroimaging biomarkers for Friedreich Ataxia

A Natural History Study to TRACK Brain and Spinal Cord Changes in Individuals with Friedreich Ataxia (TRACK-FA)

Downingtown, PA (September 24, 2020) - The Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA) and partner organizations proudly announce an international consortium of academic, industry, and patient advocacy partners to launch a natural history study to TRACK brain and spinal cord changes in individuals with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). Friedreich’s ataxia is a rare debilitating, life-shortening, degenerative neuro-muscular disorder. About 5,000 people in the United States and 15,000 worldwide live with FA.

The TRACK-FA study is the most extensive worldwide longitudinal, multi-center neuroimaging study in FA with 200 children and adults (and ~100 matched controls) and three assessments (baseline, 12-month, and 24-month follow-up). The TRACK-FA study aims to improve understanding of the natural disease history of FA (specifically, related to changes in the brain and spinal cord), validate neuroimaging measurements in FA to deliver a set of trial-ready biomarkers, and develop a comprehensive database to facilitate ongoing community research and discovery. The study is a collaboration between six international sites, including, Monash University (Australia), University of Minnesota (USA), Aachen University (Germany), University of Campinas (Brazil), University of Florida (USA), and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (USA). FARA (USA) and several industry partners will provide input on study design, endpoints, and monitoring. The goal is to begin enrolling before the end of 2020, as individual sites are able to return to clinical research activities. Updates on opening enrollment will be shared through each of the study sites, FARA and clinicaltrials.gov, clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04349514

FARA CEO, Jennifer Farmer said, “TRACK-FA is a great example of public-private partnership and research advancement in the pre-competitive space. As we all need better tools to understand and measure what is happening in the FA brain and spinal cord, FARA is proud to support this international consortium. The goal of TRACK-FA is to deliver such tools for future clinical trials.”

Professor Georgiou-Karistianis from Monash University states, “We are very excited that this international collaboration brings together significant expertise in FA from across the globe. For the first time, TRACK-FA will validate neuroimaging biomarkers so that they’re ready to be pushed through the drug development pipeline. TRACK-FA provides real promise to accelerate the effort for new treatments in this rare disease.”

The study has been registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04349514 and provides more information about TRACK-FA and a list of sites with contact information.

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