Jessica Haugen and Jeff Eliason received the phone call every parent dreads in October 2012. Their son’s pediatrician told them their son, Larry, then 1, had Fragile X syndrome (FXS) and “there’s nothing you can do about it.” The couple reacted similarly to how other newly diagnosed parents receiving these results. Denial. Discouragement. Depression.
Co-Founder Kathy May Returns after Two Decades to Write Grants. It’s about discovering new forms of treatments to enhance the mental, emotional and social growth of those affected by Fragile X. “And there will be a cure,” she said. “FRAXA is the reason for this hope. I have come full circle to FRAXA and feeling more hopeful than I have in many years.”
According to Dr. Erickson, AZD7325 is a drug that selectively boosts GABA neurotransmission in the brain. GABA is the primary neurochemical in the brain that blocks brain activation. GABA activity is in balance in the brain with Glutamate activity, which is the primary neurochemical that causes brain activation. In Fragile X, GABA activity is insufficient and glutamate activity is excessive, likely causing brain activity to be out of balance. AZD7325 attempts to correct parts of this imbalance by boosting the insufficient GABA activity in the brains of people with Fragile X
With a $90,000 grant from FRAXA Research Foundation awarded in 2017, Dr. Clinton Canal targets seratonin receptors. “There are 15 unique serotonin receptors (at least) and many of them impact the function of brain circuits that are impaired in neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Canal. “Results from this project could guide new drug discovery or drug repurposing for Fragile X.”
“We treated mice with metformin and corrected all the core Fragile X deficits. We are optimistic about using metformin in human clinical trials. This is a generic drug with few side effects” says Nahum Sonenberg, PhD, James McGill Professor, Department of Biochemistry, McGill Cancer Center, McGill University.
“The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” That’s how Lynne E. Maquat, PhD, describes the process of how her research extended to Fragile X syndrome to better understand it and ultimately find advanced treatments.
Although the clinical trials failed to show efficacy in the patient population and Novartis and Roche discontinued their Fragile X development programs, Dr. Senter has worked with Mark Bear, PhD to carefully review parent observations. Those caregiver reports suggested tolerance to mGlu5 antagonists antagonists developed quickly, consistent with some preclinical findings in the mouse model.
Yes, we all know the signs of Fragile X anxiety: Ears begin turning red followed by incessant pacing, heavy breathing, stiffening body, flapping, jumping, avoidance or yelling. Sometimes, it’s the more severe screaming, pinching, scratching, biting and general tearing things up or, worse, the nuclear meltdown.
With a $90,000 grant from FRAXA Research Foundation over 2017-2018, Dr. Frank Kooy at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, is investigating whether phosphorylation abnormalities are a suitable biomarker for the Fragile X syndrome. $90,000 Grant Drs. Anke Van Dijck (FRAXA fellow, ganaxolone clinical trial), Ilse van der Werf, Geert Vandeweyer, Elisa Cappuyns (FRAXA fellow, this study), Frank Kooy R. Frank Kooy, PhD Principal Investigator University of Antwerp 2018 FRAXA Research Grant $90,000 over 2 Years “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” was a large-scale US anti-drugs TV campaign promoted by Partnership for a Drug-Free America in 1987. The purpose was to discourage use of illegal drugs by showing an egg frying in a pan simulating what drugs can due to your brain. It was incredibly simple and effective. TV Guide named it one of the top 100 commercials of all time. University of Antwerp researcher Frank Kooy, PhD, has a completely different updateRead more
FRAXA awarded $44,000 to Healx in 2017 for drug repurposing to find new treatments for Fragile X syndrome. The results of this study include eight top “hits” which show promise for Fragile X. FRAXA is further investigating these hits.
Johns Hopkins Researcher Christina Timmerman, PhD, Searches for a Less Subjective Method to Determine if a Drug is Working in Patients with Fragile X Syndrome Many parents of children with Fragile X syndrome were crushed when promising drug trials were unexpectedly stopped a few years ago because subjective behavior-based outcome measures did not justify continuing the trials. The strong feelings linger today. If all goes well with Christina Timmerman’s research, future drug trials may be able to continue with additional metrics for assessment, until there are advanced treatments or even a cure for Fragile X syndrome. This will be welcome news to parents. Timothy Gamache, graduate student, and Christina Timmerman, PhD “We hope a more quantitative outcome measure, such as the proposed microRNA biomarker, would allow for a less subjective method to determine if a drug is working or not,” said Dr. Timmerman, Postdoctoral Fellow, Lab of Mollie Meffert, DepartmentRead more
Our sons with Fragile X Syndrome typically go to bed early and rise early. Sometimes they jump on us while we are sleeping at 3 a.m., excited to start their day. For heaven’s sake, whY, wHY, WHY? The answer may come from Carolyn Beebe Smith, PhD, senior investigator, Section on Neuroadaptation and Protein Metabolism, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. She is studying why children, in particularly boys, with FXS have problems sleeping. “We know sleep is important for many aspects of brain function,” said Dr. Smith, who received a PhD from the University of London where she studied the chemical pathology of Alzheimer’s for which she was awarded the Queen Square Prize. “In studies of healthy mice, we have shown restricted sleep during brain development can result in long-lasting changes in behavior. We are interested in understanding if sleep problems contribute to severity ofRead more
Rush University Medical Center Professor Elizabeth M. Berry-Kravis, MD, PhD, Begins a Large-Scale Clinical Trial to Study Effects of AFQ056, an mGluR5 Blocker, on Learning in Young Children BERRY tenacious! You can say a lot about Elizabeth M. Berry-Kravis, MD, PhD: • University of Notre Dame and University of Chicago educated. • Professor of Pediatrics, Neurological Sciences, Biochemistry, Rush University Medical Center. • Board certified in neurology with a special qualification in child neurology. • Expert in Fragile X syndrome and other neurogenetic diseases. You can also say she’ll talk your ears off. Literally! And much of it may go over your head. Yes, she often talks in industry jargon. Plenty of it. OK, we get it. She’s smart. Super smart. She’s caring. Super caring. She’s knowledgeable. Super knowledgeable. But did you know she’s tenacious? Incredibly, super-duper, berry tenacious? Good thing for us she’s on our side. No doubt herRead more
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Researcher Mark Bear, PhD, Sees Success Developing Disease-Modifying Treatments for Fragile X Syndrome and Other Developmental Brain Disorders Finally, hope. And it comes from the lab of Mark Bear, PhD, Picower Professor of Neuroscience, The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Dr. Bear is building on the “mGluR theory” and applied insights gained by the study of Fragile X and other genetically defined causes of intellectual disability and autism with some success. His goal is to discover and facilitate the development of disease-modifying treatments for Fragile X and other developmental brain disorders. “Neurons in the brain communicate with each other at specialized junctions called synapses,” said Bear, who earned a BS from Duke University and a PhD in neurobiology at Brown University. “Such modifications are the basis for memory storage in the brain, and go awryRead more
Sensory Overload Ever wonder why your child with Fragile X suddenly screams for no apparent reason or jumps and flaps uncontrollably seemingly for hours? You got it: hyperexcitability. But what exactly causes it? And what can fix it? Kimberly Huber, PhD, is working long and hard in her lab to answer those questions. Dr. Huber, professor, Neuroscience, UT Southwestern Medical Center, is seeking to understand how FMRP regulates connections between brain cells, called synapses, and the function of brain circuits, which are several connected brain cells. Her current focus is the study of synapses and brain circuits in the mouse that mediate sensory perception, including perception of touch and sound. She aims to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which loss of FMRP causes hyperexcitable sensory circuits. The goal: to develop targeted therapeutics that can restore normal brain function and reduce sensory hypersensitivity. “Sensory brain circuits are overactive, or hyperexcitable,Read more
FRAXA Fellowship Awarded May 2016, Renewed May 2017 Enhancement of NMDA Receptor Signaling for the Treatment of Fragile X Syndrome Principal Investigator Emily Osterweil, PhD Postdoctoral Fellow Stephanie Barnes, PhD University of Edinburgh $90,000 over 2 years University of Edinburgh Researcher Emily Osterweil, PhD, Probes the Brain’s Biochemistry to Correct Imbalances We know the “X” in Fragile X refers to the X chromosome, but it could just as easily refer to the unknown.Such as why do people with Fragile X have an excessive production of new proteins in their brains that lead to imbalances? That question is being dissected in the lab of Emily Osterweil, PhD, chancellor’s fellow, Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh, UK. Dr. Osterweil is using insights from previous experiments to identify new treatment strategies for Fragile X. Her goal is to understand the biochemistry of the brain better. She aims to correct those imbalances byRead more
bio·mark·er, noun, a distinctive biological or biologically derived indicator of a process, event, or condition. Doesn’t help? Well, it’s perfectly clear to Argentinian researchers Patricia Cogram, PhD, and Paulina Carullo, MD, from the FLENI Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They understand there is an urgent need for validated biomarkers after recent Fragile X syndrome clinical trials have failed on their primary endpoints. “Biomarkers are key to learning more about their correlation with clinical and behavioral characteristics across diverse developmental stages in Fragile X syndrome,” said Dr. Cogram, the principal investigator of FRAXA’s Drug Validation Initiative (FRAXA-DVI) to test preclinicaly potential compounds for FXS. “We are searching for biomarkers that could potentially be used for clinical trials for treatment in children, teenagers, and adults with Fragile X.” Cue parents. Yes, you. Targets: your Child’s Cognitive, Behavioral and Emotional Impairments Dr. Cogram and Dr. Carullo are looking for families of children withRead more
Cornell University researcher Samie R. Jaffrey, MD, PhD and Postdoctoral Fellow Jiahui Wu, PhD were awarded $90,000 by over 2016-2018 by FRAXA for their project, Which is the right FMRP for Therapeutic Development of Fragile X Syndrome? Here's the Rub When researchers develop effective drugs that reactivate FMRP — the protein that is normally silenced in Fragile X — what in the world will they do next? So ponders Cornell University researcher Samie R. Jaffrey, MD, PhD. Jaffrey, professor, Pharmacology, Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University, knows reactivating FMRP will lead to many important questions, such as: Which cell type needs FMRP? How much FMRP protein is needed to restore brain function? Where in the brain will FMRP protein be needed? Where in a neuron will the FMRP needs to be expressed? Will FMRP protein be created in the correct quantity and location to work as a therapeutic? In anticipationRead more
Dr. Maurin and Dr. Bardoni were awarded $90,000 over two years from FRAXA Research Foundation for their project, “Modulating cAMP And cGMP Levels As A New Therapeutic Approach For FXS”, in May 2016. They aim to gain a better understanding of how the brain develops and functions Like snowflakes, people with Fragile X Syndrome are not all alike. Some respond differently to the same drugs, as previous Fragile X research has shown. Understanding this phenomena is leading French scientists Barbara Bardoni, PhD, and Thomas Maurin, PhD, to identify new drugs to improve treatments in patients with Fragile X. Among the proteins they have identified, some are known to control brain function and development. This has helped identify a set of candidate proteins for which there are pre-existing active chemical compounds that target their activity. Using these compounds in vitro may revert some FXS hallmarks. “Access to different drugs will allow some flexibility inRead more
The University of Texas at Austin Researchers Daniel Johnston, PhD, and Jennifer J. Siegel, PhD, Explore Harnessing Nature to Improve Memory in Fragile X Mice We all forget things at times. How many times have you misplaced your car keys or forgotten the name of a person you just met? Now think how you would feel if your memory was stunted from birth? Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin know that people with Fragile X syndrome have working memory deficits because of a dysfunction with the front part of their brain. What they recently discovered is how a network of neurons is able to, on occasion, compensate for the loss of FMRP (Fragile X mental retardation protein) to regain memory function. A Different Approach “We are taking a slightly different approach to treating and potentially curing Fragile X,” said Johnston, professor, Department of Neuroscience, College of Natural Sciences,Read more
New York University scientists make progress developing biomarker signatures and cataloging the types of Fragile X patients who will most likely benefit from new therapies Take a closer look at your son or daughter with Fragile X syndrome. If you meet another child with Fragile X syndrome, chances are he/she may seem totally different to you, yet everyone is united under a FXS diagnosis. Discovering the biological reasons behind these differences is key to identifying which children will respond to what treatment. But how do you find the ‘prediction formula’? New York University scientists may soon know. Co-Principal Investigators Eric Klann, professor, NYU Center for Neural Science, and Aditi Bhattacharya, Independent Investigator, Center for Brain Development, inStem, Bangalore and Heather Bowling, PhD, a post-doc fellow, are working together in the second year of a FRAXA-funded study to develop reliable and relevant biomarkers to examine new therapeutics. Their current research isRead more
Targeted transcriptional reactivation of FMR1 in Fragile X Syndrome stem cells Peter Todd MD, PhD Principal Investigator Jill Haenfler PhD Postdoctoral Fellow University of Michigan Medical Center $45,000 in 2016 renewed for $45,000 in 2017 Swimming Upstream Fish like salmon are born in fresh water streams and rivers. When the time comes for them to breed, they return to the stream of their birth to lay eggs in the same spot where they were born. To accomplish this, they must swim upstream against the current or flow of the stream. Taking a page out of the salmon DNA playbook, University of Michigan scientists Peter Todd, MD, PhD, and postdoctoral fellow Jill Haenfler, Ph.D., are exploring unchartered waters to find a cure for Fragile X Syndrome. The researchers are adapting CRISPR research to reactivate the FMR1 gene, which provides instructions for making a protein called FMRP — needed for normal brainRead more
University of California Researchers Khaleel Razak, PhD, and Jonathan W. Lovelace, PhD, Explore Drug Combinations to Limit Hypersensitivity to Sounds in Fragile X Mice We’ve all been there. Our child with Fragile X hears something and becomes excited. Very excited. Hand flapping follows with non-stop jumping and ear-piercing squawking. Nothing helps. No meds. No iPhone. No magic toy. Several minutes go by. Sometimes longer. How many times have you apologized in a grocery store — or restaurant — or at the mall? Wouldn’t it make our lives better if this unpredictable excitability was minimalized or eliminated? That’s the premise behind research being conducted at University of California, Riverside. Principal Investigator Khaleel Razak, PhD, and postdoctoral fellow Jonathan W. Lovelace, PhD, are studying mice genetically altered to mimic the genetic characteristics of humans with Fragile X Syndrome. Their focus is on the mouse brain’s electrical activity when different kinds of soundsRead more
David Nelson, PhD; With Yanghong Gu, PhD; and Ruiting Zong, PhD It’s rare to find a researcher working on the Big Three — Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome (FXTAS) and Fragile X-associated primary ovarian insufficiency (FXPOI). Then again, David Nelson, PhD, is the rare bird. Nelson is a professor of Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, and director of Baylor’s Graduate Program in Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences. He has been involved in FXS research since the late 1980s where he helped identify the mutation and the FMR1 gene. These days, researchers in Nelson’s lab at Baylor are studying FXS, FXTAS and FXPOI using mouse models. The goals are to understand which cell/tissue types contribute to these disorders, which genes are involved and what can be done to modify the course of the disorder as a result of these findings. “We are developing mice thatRead more
University of Wisconsin senior scientist Cara Westmark, PhD, studies the effect of promising therapeutics on sleep in Fragile X mice Your child finally falls asleep. You quickly celebrate before quietly turning to your favorite book or another episode of Game of Thrones. You tiptoe to bed. Exhausted, you slowly fall asleep. Enter deep REM. Minutes later, you are awoken loudly. Your bundle of joy with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is now bouncing off you, wide awake, screaming, smiling, and demanding you join the party before you all return to bed after a few rounds of cajoling and pleading. Minutes later, repeat, rinse. Hitting home? The oh-my-it’s-way-too-early morning parties may be over if new research by Cara Westmark, PhD, is successful. Westmark, senior scientist, Department of Neurology, University of Wisconsin previously found proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease are over expressed in Fragile X mice. She believes drug treatments that normalize theRead more