Gwendolyn Strong Foundation Announces Three 2016 Emerging Investigator Award Grantees

The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation and FightSMA, two organizations dedicated to defeating the childhood neuromuscular disorder spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), announced today three winners of the “FightSMA and Gwendolyn Strong Foundation Emerging Investigator Awards.”

The awards were created four years ago by the two SMA research-funding organizations to attract outstanding, next-generation talent into SMA research, according to FightSMA Chair Joe Slay. The winners were selected from a field of strong young investigators, ranging from recent PhD graduates engaged in post-doctoral fellowships to assistant professors within the first four years of their appointment.

“This program is a great example of how two nonprofit organizations can build smart partnerships to advance rare disease research,” said Bill Strong, Gwendolyn Strong Foundation co-founder. “We’re putting research funds directly in the hands of SMA’s brightest stars, and over the past four years this unique model has proven effective at supporting fresh ideas and moving SMA research forward.”

The three 2016 EIA winners were announced at the annual FightSMA research conference, held April 7-9, 2016 in Alexandria, VA. Each of the researchers will receive a $27,500 award, and each is eligible to compete later for a final award of $62,500.

Since its creation in 2013, the EIA program has awarded $650,000 to SMA investigators.

The three 2016 winners are:

  • Sara Gombash Lampe (The Ohio State University): “SMN Deficient Enteric Submucosal Neurons and Gastrointestinal Function in SMA.” Dr. Gombash will examine the role of SMN in the intestine and how SMN deficiency impacts digestion and nutrition adsorption. She is a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Kevin Foust’s lab who has been the recipient of FightSMA/GSF funding previously.
  • Sarah Tisdale (Columbia University): “Role of SMN in cytoplasmic mRNA regulation.” Dr. Tisdale will investigate the role of SMN in the regulation of cytoplasmic mRNA turnover and identify specific mRNAs that are dysregulated by SMN deficiency with the goal of understanding how these targets contribute to SMA pathogenesis. Dr. Tisdale is a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Livio Pellizzoni’s laboratory and is the second recipient from the Pellizzoni lab to receive an Emerging Investigator Award.
  • Anne Rietz (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis): “Investigation of potential post-translational modifications of SMN by a novel small molecule.” Dr. Rietz is examining how a novel small molecule or “drug” leads to increased SMN levels. Understanding of the mechanism behind SMN induction could lead to more effective drugs to fight SMA. She is a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Elliot Androphy’s laboratory.

The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization created to change the future of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Inspired by their daughter, Gwendolyn, Bill and Victoria Strong started the GSF to fill voids in the SMA ecosystem by utilizing technology, social media, and branding to raise funds to further SMA research, provide technology grants, advocate for and support families impacted by SMA, and raise global awareness of this brutal disease.

FightSMA is an all-volunteer, parent-led nonprofit dedicated to finding treatments for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the leading genetic cause of infant death. The group has awarded research grants at 45 universities and research institutions in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. Celebrating its 25th year in 2016, FightSMA was an early funder in the hunt for the SMA gene. FightSMA has funded high-throughput screening for SMN gene upregulation, SMA mouse model research, SMA gene therapy research, and other SMA projects. In 2013, FightSMA played a leadership role in the successful passage of the National Pediatric Research Network Act.