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Southern Research neuroscience lab wins grant to advance Parkinson’s, ALS study

Birmingham, Ala. – A Southern Research neuroscience lab has received new federal grants totaling almost $3.9 million to advance its study of Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological diseases.

The grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke include $3.3 million to study Parkinson’s and $594,000 for research related to frontotemporal dementia, a disease that is similar to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

Both grants will support a lab led by Rita Cowell, Ph.D., fellow and chair of the Department of Neuroscience in Southern Research’s Drug Discovery Division.

“These grants are a reflection of the excellence and dedication of our neuroscience team,” said Josh Carpenter, president and CEO at Southern Research. “They work every day to fight diseases that have devastated the lives of so many families. They are an asset to Southern Research and to our community.”

Cowell’s lab has worked for 15 years to study why brain cells die and lead to neurological diseases that cause an ongoing and often devastating decline in a person’s physical and mental abilities.

“If we can understand why these cells die, then we may be able to find drugs to interfere with that and stop the progression of these diseases,” she said.

For Parkinson’s, the lab received a five-year grant to advance its research on a molecule that may keep brain cells alive. The length and amount of the federal grant reflects the strong preliminary data that Southern Research has compiled in past research supported by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Southern Research Change Campaign and the Meyer Foundation.

The second grant will support two years of additional exploratory research about how neurons stop functioning in frontotemporal dementia and ALS, and will be led by Cowell and Kazutoshi Nakazawa, also at Southern Research.

Cowell is particularly proud that this exploratory grant builds on initial work at Southern Research that was supported by the Alabama Power Foundation. “That investment from our own community created the base that is allowing us to go to the next level,” Cowell said.

Southern Research is leading the research on both grants. Co-investigators on these grants are located at UAB, Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan.

(Courtesy of Southern Research)