Newswise — Irvine, CA – November 8, 2021 – The University of California, Irvine Center for Neural Circuit Mapping (CNCM) has been awarded three new grants: a four year, $4.8M grant from the National Institute on Aging; a three year, $1.8M grant from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and, a one year, $.5M grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.  The grants will support the efforts of CNCM Investigators to develop powerful new molecular tools and will enhance resources offered by the Center to neurosciences researchers worldwide. 

“Xiangmin Xu and his colleagues at the UCI Center for Neural Circuit Mapping are successfully pursuing big team science at the very highest level to address important questions that could not be tackled by any single lab,” said Geoffrey Abbott, PhD, vice dean for research at the UCI School of Medicine.  “The grants they have received are funding ‘dream teams’ comprising some of the most talented scientists in their fields.”

The grant from the National Institute on Aging is for a comparative single-cell epigenomic analysis of AD-like pathogenesis in unconventional animal models.  This funding supports efforts by Xiangmin Xu, Carl Cotman, Elizabeth Head at UCI; Bing Ren at UCSD and Patricia Cogram at University of Chile (Santiago, Chile) to determine the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathogenesis in humans, as well as new targets for AD prevention and treatment. In addition to genome data sharing at the designated NIH depository, resources will be shared and curated at the CNCM.

The FDA grant to UCI’s Xiangmin Xu, Albert LaSpada, Virginia Kimonis, Thomas Lane and Todd Holmes will be used to develop innovative treatments for rare genetic brain diseases.

“We have assembled a world class, multi-disciplinary academic research team supported by our industrial partners to develop innovative AAV-based gene knockdown and replacement treatments for rare genetic diseases including Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 7 (SCA7) and valosin- containing protein (VCP) multisystem proteinopathy,” said Xiangman Xu, PhD, professor and Chancellor's Fellow in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, and director for the Center for Neural Circuit Mapping at the UCI School of Medicine.  

The goal with the FDA funding is to design and manufacture new AAV vectors with improved critical quality attributes (safety, efficacy, target specificity) for gene therapy, develop advanced quantitative analytics for efficient assessment of in vivo gene delivery, with the ultimate goal of effectively treating the SCA7 and VCP diseases.

Funding from the National Institute of Mental Health will support a state-of-the-art equipment purchase to enhance and customize the new light-sheet fluorescence microscope currently in place in the CNCM which will used for imaging large brain samples.

“Our microscopy system has large sample imaging capability, superior automated performance and superior analysis capability based on hardware and software improvements developed by the 3i Corporation.  This additional funding will further enhance our capabilities and improve our high-speed, three-dimensional imaging of brain samples at single cell resolution,” said Xu.  

Established in 2020, the UCI Center for Neural Circuit Mapping focuses on neural circuit studies and new viral-genetic technology development. A critical component of the center is the creation of a viral production facility to disseminate new molecular tools to the worldwide neuroscience community. 

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