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UF to lead national effort to help patients with rare brain disease
Date:12/15/2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. When treating devastating brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, doctors can reach into their medical bags to find something to help a patient.

But they come up empty-handed when they try to help the vast majority of patients with ataxia disabling disorders that rob people of their balance and coordination.

University of Florida neurologists are trying to change that with the help of a $1 million Challenge grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to establish a nationwide network of physician-scientists with expertise in clinical ataxia research.

"A lot of times I explain to patients the symptoms of ataxia are similar to what happens when someone gets too much alcohol into their system," says S.H. Subramony, M.D., a professor of neurology in the UF College of Medicine. "In either case there is slurred speech, inability to walk straight, falling, blurry vision symptoms that indicate damage to a part of the brain called the cerebellum."

Ataxia from the Greek "a taxis," meaning without order or coordination can leave a patient unable to coordinate their eye blinks, let alone move. It can be hereditary or it could be brought on by strokes, tumors or other medical problems. One form, called sporadic ataxia, appears without apparent explanation in adults with no family history of the disease.

"Our first goal is to find a treatment to make patients' lives easier," said Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., chairman of the UF department of neurology and principal investigator and leader of the national effort, called the Clinical Research Consortium for Spinocerebellar Ataxias. "But the common thread ataxia shares with diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's and ALS is that neurons are dying. By studying ataxia, we can create insight into the neurodegenerative process in all of those diseases."

With laboratory and clinical research expertise from Ash
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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