Our Story Lucas turned 21 this year, a fun milestone for most young adults, but not as eventful for someone with Fragile X syndrome. Lucas still prefers isolation in his room, fast-forwarding and rewinding to his favorite spots in his DVD collection, doing the same for YouTube videos on the internet, and his favorite internet pastime: shopping for die-cast toy cars and trucks. This is the tolerable part of Lucas’ disease. One of the many things making us all crazy this year is his insistence on dining out. Food makes his world go-round, and when Lucas doesn’t get to eat out at his favorite restaurants, none of us are happy. This may sound minuscule and trite, but to Lucas, it’s the thing he looks forward to the most. The other biggie is his obsession over a “perfect” toy. Lucas does chores around the house in order to save money toRead more
Dave Bjork, Director of Community Relations, recently sat down with Peter Todd, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology in the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr. Todd was recently awarded a FRAXA Research Grant for gene reactivation with the use of CRISPR. In this interview he tells us about CRISPR in Fragile X research, how realistic is it that it could turn the Fragile X gene back on, and if it can really be a cure for Fragile X.
A 2013-2014 FRAXA Research Grant, Synaptic Characterization of Human Fragile X Neurons, has shown that the Fragile X mutation impairs homeostatic plasticity in human neurons, by blocking synaptic retinoic acid signaling.
Principal Investigator Marius Wernig, PhD and FRAXA Postdoctoral Fellow Samuele Marro, PhD at Stanford University used stem cells from human adults, instead of mouse cells, for this study. They found promising results with retinoic acid which is a metabolite of Vitamin A. The system they have developed could provide a powerful new cellular biomarker for screening many treatment approaches.
Dr. Marro provided us with the following summary of the published results.
Theirs was an effort by a small group of thoughtful, committed members of the Fragile X Association of Michigan (FXAM) to be sure. The entire project took months! But it was hard work well worth the effort. After writing and revising (and revising), FXAM was awarded a $35,000 grant which the Michigan Fragile X group will now direct to Dr. Todd’s ongoing Fragile X research involving CRISPR!
In the first week of March I attended my first Fragile X Advocacy Day to meet with many of the Massachusetts delegation to Congress. While this was my first time advocating for Fragile X research, I’ve been a longtime lung cancer research advocate and have met with many of the same representatives in the past. It was a pleasure to meet with many of the families as my participation in Advocacy Day was in the spirit of “we are all in this together”.
CRISPR/Cas9 was used by MIT researchers to remove the molecular tags that keep the mutant gene shut off in Fragile X syndrome neurons and resulted in some of them producing protein normally. Much work is being done right now, with exciting new discoveries coming at a fast and furious pace.
“We are trying to target the first event that goes wrong in Fragile X syndrome”, says Todd, “One reason our previous attempts to develop treatments for Fragile X syndrome have failed is that they’ve tried to target the downstream effects of losing the Fragile X protein. The protein does many things… bypassing all the functions that it normally takes care of has proven difficult from a pharmacologic perspective.”
With a $90,000 grant from FRAXA Research Foundation awarded in 2016, University of Michigan researcher Peter Todd, MD, PhD, is using CRISPR to selectively turn the Fragile X gene back on in stem cells.
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
4 Countries – 10 Teams – $1 Million From finding new treatment targets, to pinpointing outcome measures for future clinical trials, to attempting to reactivate the gene which is silenced in Fragile X syndrome, these innovative scientists will bring us closer to a cure. Improving Clinical Trials Many parents of children with Fragile X know well the struggles of getting their children to sleep through the night. Mice and fruit flies engineered to mimic Fragile X Syndrome also have disrupted sleep. Drs. Westmark and Smith will test potential therapeutics in mice using sleep as an outcome measure and investigate whether sleep could be used as an outcome measure for future clinical trials. The search is on for a simple blood test to measure how well a treatment works for an individual with Fragile X. Dr. Frank Kooy's team investigates. Testing Treatment Targets One of the goals of FRAXA’s research program has been to find biological pathwaysRead more
There’s been a lot of press concerning a new biotechnology called CRISPR/Cas9, or simply CRISPR. This technology, which is based on the discovery of naturally-occurring bacterial defense mechanisms, has attracted an enormous amount of biotech investment. It has also excited the imaginations of scientists, clinicians, and rare disease advocates everywhere. How might CRISPR be applied to Fragile X syndrome? CRISPR offers the tantalizing possibility of “editing” genes very precisely, and it could (theoretically) excise the methylated trinucleotide repeat sequence from Fragile X cells, rendering them entirely normal. CRISPR: A Developing Technology First, it is important to understand that this is a developing technology. CRISPR is a powerful new research tool for editing genes; it can be used to enhance gene therapy approaches in vitro (in a dish in the lab), and to knock out genes quickly and easily. To date, its biggest advantage is the speed and cost-effectiveness with whichRead more