Two longtime MDA grantees receive prestigious award
On May 3, 2009, molecular biologist Louis Kunkel at Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard University, and biophysicist Kevin Campbell at the University of Iowa, received the prestigious March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. The prize includes a $250,000 cash award.
Kunkel was on the MDA-supported research team that in 1986 identified the gene for dystrophin, the protein missing in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).
Since then, his laboratory has been studying muscle stem cells and has been using dystrophin-deficient zebrafish to screen for small molecules that potentially can be developed into therapeutic agents. Much of this work has had MDA support. Kunkel now chairs MDA’s Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommends new projects for MDA funding.
Kevin Campbell headed teams that identified several of the proteins that interact with dystrophin in the muscle-fiber membrane. This research, much of which was MDA-supported, shed light on the functions and structure of dystrophin and the membrane itself and also clarified the role that other membrane-associated proteins play in causing limb-girdle muscular dystrophies (LGMD) and congenital muscular dystrophies (CMD).
More recently, Campbell’s laboratory has focused on the dystroglycan protein and its role in CMD; the role of sarcoglycan protein deficiency in skeletal and cardiac muscle abnormalities; and development of gene transfer for LGMD. Much of this work has been MDA-supported. Campbell also serves on MDA’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
Symposium honors two MDA-supported leaders in myositis research
On April 25, 2009, W. King Engel and Valerie Askanas, both neurologists and neuropathologists at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, were honored at the USC International Neuromuscular Symposium. Engel and Askanas, who are married, co-direct the MDA clinic at Hospital of the Good Samaritan in Los Angeles, and Engel also directs the MDA/ALS Center at that institution.
Askanas has received support from MDA for many years for studies of inclusion-body myositis (IBM). She and Engel are well known for having demonstrated that amyloid-beta and several other proteins form toxic clumps in the muscle fibers in this disease. All speakers at the symposium were former trainees of Engel and Askanas.