Newswise — Forty-two medical researchers and their labs have been awarded over $21 million by the Muscular Dystrophy Association to continue critical neuromuscular research. Many of the grants are multi-year awards to be dispersed over the next three years.

One of the grant recipients is Fu-Dong Shi, M.D., a principal investigator at Barrow Neurological Institute, part of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Shi has been awarded $450,000 to continue his groundbreaking work in the disease myasthenia gravis.

Including this grant, MDA has awarded Shi $1,105,000 in scientific grant money since 2001.

The grant is part of MDA’s ongoing commitment to fund neuromuscular research that may eventually lead to treatments and cures for muscular dystrophy and related diseases.

“All of these grants were recommended for funding by the distinguished groups of neuromuscular disease researchers and clinicians voluntarily serving on the MDA Medical and Scientific Advisory Committees,” explains R. Rodney Howell, M.D., Chairman of the MDA Board of Directors. “Dr. Shi is an outstanding scientist, and Fu-Dong’s contributions to the field of neuromuscular disease research continue to be impressive.”

In myasthenia gravis, the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the place where nerve signals normally reach muscle fibers, leading to fatigue and muscle weakness.

This "autoimmune" disease can be treated by general suppression of the immune system and other therapies. However, a treatment that specifically targets only the actions of the immune system that causes the disease would be highly desirable.

Shi and his colleagues will now focus on Th17 cells; recent research has shown they may play a key role in causing or intensifying autoimmunity.

“The advancement of biology and immunology in recent years now allows us to tackle very specific elements of our immune system (for example, Th-17 cells, regulatory T cells, etc.) and make corrections and adjustments, so that production of disease-causing antibodies can be reduced or eliminated,” said Shi. “For several years, our group has been focusing on these targeted therapies. We feel now that we are closer than ever to achieving this goal.”

All research grant applications are peer-reviewed by MDA’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Committees. The applications go through a rigorous process in which world-renowned experts in neuromuscular diseases assess the protocols and methods used by the applying scientists. MDA’s experts always consider the relevance of the applicant’s research to therapy development for over 40 neuromuscular diseases that MDA covers. Each year, about 500 researchers apply to MDA for research funding.

About MDAFounded in 1950, the Muscular Dystrophy Association is the nation’s largest non-governmental funder of research seeking treatments and cures for more than 40 neuromuscular diseases, including muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), and Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). The first nonprofit organization to be recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Medical Association (“for significant and lasting contributions to the health and welfare of humanity”), MDA also provides unparalleled health care services through its network of more than 200 hospital-affiliated clinics; advocates for the families it serves; and invests significant resources educating the medical and scientific communities, as well as the general public, about neuromuscular diseases affecting more than 1 million Americans. Thanks to decades of generous contributions from caring individuals, plus outstanding support received from local, regional and national sponsors, MDA is credited for its role in building the entire field of neuromuscular disease research, while simultaneously nurturing clinical care to significantly improve both quality and length of lives for those affected by neuromuscular diseases.

In the Phoenix area, MDA serves people affected by neuromuscular diseases at the MDA/ALS Center at St. Joseph’s Medical Center. Shafeeq Ladha is Director of the ALS Center and co-director of the MDA Clinic, along with co-director John Bodensteiner, M.D.

Register for reporter access to contact details