Achieving Predictability: Developing Biomarkers for Fragile X Patients

klann lab
Dr. Heather Bowling, Dr. Eric Klann, Dr. Aditi Bhattacharya

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 is based on how each person with fragile X is different on a personal and biological level although all have the same clinical diagnosis. Surveying how ‘different’ people with fragile X are at the molecular level and in a key cellular process helps the scientists to identify and catalogue subgroups of patients. Using these molecular signposts helps gather more information about FXS over time independently from behavioral tests, with an added benefit of increasing overall FXS understanding.

Companion Diagnostics

Their goal is to develop biologically based methods of predicting which patients with fragile X will respond best to new therapies and how to measure their treatment response with an unbiased blood, urine or saliva test.

“The tests we are developing are commonly referred to as ‘companion diagnostics,’” Bhattacharya said. “Just like a person with breathing problems can be monitored using a breath test at every doctor’s visit even if the worst symptoms are not present on the day, our tests will provide a behaviorally independent measure of how a person is responding to a therapy and predict who can enroll for a certain trial. If all goes well, it may mean more medicines available and knowing whom will most benefit from them.”

Thanks to FRAXA support, the scientists are able to network with other researchers from around the globe to transform research from bench to bedside.

“FRAXA is special,” Bhattacharya said. “FRAXA grants power our research. The meetings power collaborations and help us identify how researchers can best serve the needs of the FXS community. FRAXA helps us to focus our research on the most pressing questions.”

Bhattacharyya believes changes in cellular processes such as protein synthesis and metabolism are a hallmark of FXS and a natural choice for their research.

“FXS research has raised our awareness of neurodevelopmental disorders and how what we do in our lab with a test tube can make a real difference in people’s lives,” Bhattacharyya said. “We would like to thank the patient community for their continued support of research initiatives.”

The Team

Prof Eric Klann is Professor at the Center for Neural Science at NYU. He is multiple FRAXA grantee in the past decade and is a leading authority on how eccentric protein synthesis underlies disease pathology in many neurological conditions.

Dr. Aditi Bhattacharya has been a previous FRAXA Post-doctoral Fellow (2011-13) and is now a team leader at the Center for Brain Development and Repair, inStem-NCBS, in Bangalore, India. She is interested in understanding how protein synthesis and signaling changes parallel each other in early development and in small circuits of the brain. She is also a firm believer in doing translational research which transform basic research findings to real-world applications.

Dr. Heather Bowling is a post-doctoral fellow at the Klann lab with previous experience in Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Rett Syndrome and schizophrenia. She has been a consultant for CytoDel and a Harlem BioSpace associate. She is committed to developing usable solutions to further the quest for better diagnosis and treatment of neurological disease.

More 2016 FRAXA Investigator awards


About the Author

Ted Coutilish author of Yale Professor Paul Lombroso studies STEP inhibitors for Fragile X
Ted Coutilish and his son, Andrew

Theodore G. Coutilish is celebrating his 10th year as Associate Vice President of Marketing at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Coutilish has enjoyed more than two decades of higher education marketing communications leadership experience. Since 2011, he has successfully led the university’s TRUEMU marketing campaign, leading to record new student enrollment.

Over the years, his peers have recognized his work with numerous prestigious awards, including IABC Detroit’s 2012 Communicator of the Year, the chapter’s highest honor, recognizing lifelong professional communications excellence. In addition, he and his wife, Mary Beth Langan, were recognized with the 2012 Halstead-Bresnahan Family Award at the 13th Annual International Fragile X Conference, Miami, Florida, recognizing those who make a profound difference to families affected by fragile X syndrome. Coutilish was named “Distinguished Alumni in 2013” by Grosse Pointe North High School, the school’s highest honor, recognizing professional and community achievements. He lives in the City of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with his wife, and their son, Andrew, who has Autism and Fragile X Syndrome. He earned a MA in liberal studies with a concentration in communications from University of Detroit Mercy in 1994 and a BA in print journalism in 1987 from Wayne State University.

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