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Barrow scientist receives $450K MDA grant

(April 5, 2010) -- A scientist at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix has been awarded a major grant from the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to continue his groundbreaking work in the disease of myasthenia gravis.

The $450,000 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. Including this funding, the MDA has awarded Fu-Dong Shi more than $1.1 million since 2001.

"Dr. Shi is an outstanding scientist and Fu-Dong's contributions to the field of neuromuscular disease research continue to be impressive," said R. Rodney Howell, MD, Chairman of the MDA Board of Directors.

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 at Barrow, which is part of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, 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."

Shi was one of 42 medical researchers and their labs who received awards totaling 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.


Contact: Lynne Reaves
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center

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