AFTD Announces New Drug Discovery Grant and Postdoctoral Fellowship Recipients


AFTD has recently announced new awards supporting research to advance the science of FTD and, hopefully, hasten a future free of this disease.

Since 2007, AFTD and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation have partnered to fund the Accelerating Drug Discovery in FTD grant program, which supports preclinical research on promising new or repurposed drugs to treat FTD. For 2020, the recipients of the Accelerating Drug Discovery for FTD awards are Wen-Hsuan Chang, PhD, and Anna Orr, PhD.

Dr. Chang, the Head of Research for AcuraStem Incorporated, a California-based biotechnology company, will test to see whether blocking a specific enzyme will increase the clearance of damaged or misshapen proteins, such as tau and TDP-43, to prevent them from accumulating and potentially causing FTD. Meanwhile, Dr. Orr, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Cornell University, will work to improve a group of compounds developed by her team that block free radicals that can trigger protein accumulation and inflammation in brain cells – a potentially promising new approach to treating FTD.

AFTD has also awarded three 2021-2023 Holloway Postdoctoral Fellowships. The recipients are Daniel Okobi, MD, PhD, of UCLA; Hijai Regina Shin, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley; and Matthew Nolan, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Okobi (pictured above) will use miniature microscopes implanted in the brains of mice with an FTD-associated mutation to image brain pathways in the animals, allowing him to detect subtle abnormalities that represent the earliest signs of the FTD disease process. Building on work carried out by former AFTD Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Ming-Yuan Su, Dr. Shin will devise strategies for the development of drugs that restore normal lysosome function in C9orf72-associated FTD. Finally, Dr. Nolan will use gene editing, stem cells, and animal models to advance our understanding of the role of RNA binding proteins in FTD, and seek to identify and evaluate new drugs as potential treatments for TDP-43–associated FTD.

For over a decade, AFTD Postdoctoral Fellowships have funded the next generation of FTD researchers during the critical final phase of their training. Thanks to generous support from the Holloway Family Fund, established earlier this year by AFTD Board member Kristin Holloway, AFTD has updated and expand this program, demonstrating our commitment to maintaining the pipeline of promising early-career investigators.

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