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Scientific News

FARA funds research progress

In this section, you will find the most recent FA research publications, many of which are funded by FARA, as well as information on upcoming conferences and symposiums. You can search for articles by date using the archive box in the right hand column. To locate FARA Funded or Supported Research, click the hyperlink in the right hand column. You may also search for specific content using key words or phrases in the search button at the top right of your screen. Please be sure to visit other key research sections of our website for information on FARA’s Grant Program and the Treatment Pipeline.

Longitudinal structural brain changes in Friedreich ataxia depend on disease severity: the IMAGE-FRDA study

Disease progression in Friedreich ataxia remains poorly understood. This study aimed to characterise longitudinal change in brain structure using a multi-modal approach across cerebral and cerebellar grey and white matter. T1-weighted, diffusion-tensor, and magnetisation transfer magnetic resonance images were obtained from 28 individuals with Friedreich ataxia and 29 age- and gender-matched controls at two time-points, 2 years apart. Region-of-interest and exploratory between-group comparisons assessed changes in brain macrostructure (cerebellar lobule volume, cerebral cortical thickness/gyrification, brain white matter volume) and microstructure (white matter fractional anisotropy, mean/axial/radial diffusivity, magnetisation transfer ratio). Rates of change were correlated against change in neurological severity, Time 1 severity, and onset age. Individuals with Friedreich ataxia had a greater rate of white matter volume loss than controls in the superior cerebellar peduncles and right peri-thalamic/posterior cerebral regions, and greater reduction in left primary motor cortex gyrification. Greater cerebellar/brainstem white matter volume loss and right dorsal premotor gyrification loss was observed amongst individuals with less severe neurological symptoms at Time 1. Conversely, cerebral atrophy and changes in axial diffusivity were observed in individuals with more severe Time 1 symptoms. Progression in radial diffusivity was more pronounced amongst individuals with earlier disease onset. Greater right ventral premotor gyrification loss correlated with greater neurological progression. In conclusion, heterogeneity in Friedreich ataxia progression is observed at the neurobiological level, with evidence of earlier cerebellar and later cerebral degeneration.

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Remember friedreich ataxia even in a toddler with apparently isolated dilated (not hypertrophic!) cardiomyopathy: revisited

Neurological manifestations in FRDA often precede cardiac involvement, presenting mainly as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The authors describe a toddler with apparently isolated severe heart failure, successfully managed with heart transplant (HT). Although well described in adolescents and adults, onset of FRDA is very uncommon in toddlers and neurological ataxic features are predominant. The presenting symptom of cardiomyopathy is very rare. Similar history is rarely reported in literature, including an aggressive cardiomyopathy in children younger than 5years-old. The patient was diagnosed with FRDA at a postoperative stage due to minimal neurological manifestations. Moreover, the novelty of this study lies in demonstrating a major DNA triplet repeat expansion in skeletal muscle compared to DNA from peripheral blood leukocytes. These results support the concept that triplet repeat expansion is variable among different tissues in FRDA, and in this case it was more expanded in the post mitotic muscular tissue than in blood cells. The study highlights the importance of taking in consideration this rare condition even in a toddler with apparently isolated cardiomyopathy and especially when conventional investigations give negative results. The authors discuss the potential trigger effect of heart transplant as a precipitating factor in manifesting neurological symptoms. This observation relates to three patients described so far (the third patient died suddenly). Early onset cardiomyopathy with FRDA should increase awareness of this rare condition and the authors highlight HT successful outcome. Further reports are needed to delineate this rare condition in children.

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Healx launches partnership with Ataxia UK and FARA to find treatments for rare neurodegenerative condition

Ataxia UK is the leading charity in the United Kingdom for people affected by ataxia - an umbrella term for a group of neurological disorders that target the nervous system and affect balance, coordination and speech. FARA (Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance) is a non-profit organisation in the US, dedicated to supporting research into treatments and cures for Friedreich’s ataxia, the most common type of hereditary ataxia. In this partnership, Healx will combine its AI technology and deep pharmacological expertise with Ataxia UK and FARA’s unparalleled patient and scientific insight to drive novel treatments for Friedreich's ataxia from prediction to clinic.

Cambridge UK – 7 April 2021
– Healx, the AI-powered, patient-inspired technology company accelerating the discovery and development of rare disease treatments at scale, is excited to announce its latest patient group partnerships. Working in collaboration with Ataxia UK and FARA, Healx will leverage its state-of-the-art AI platform and drug discovery expertise to develop novel treatments for Friedreich’s ataxia – a rare neurodegenerative condition that causes issues with balance, speech and coordination.

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Quantitative assessment of Friedreich Ataxia via self-drinking activity

Effective monitoring of the progression of neurodegenerative conditions can be significantly improved by objective assessments. Clinical assessments of conditions such as Friedreich's Ataxia (FA), currently rely on subjective measures commonly practiced in clinics as well as the ability of the affected individual to perform conventional tests of the neurological examination. In this study, the authors propose an ataxia measuring device, in the form of a pressure canister capable of sensing certain kinetic and kinematic parameters of interest to quantify the impairment levels of participants particularly when engaged in an activity that is closely associated with daily living. In particular, the functional task of simulated drinking was utilized to capture characteristic features of disability manifestation in terms of diagnosis (separation of individuals with FA and controls) and severity assessment of individuals diagnosed with the debilitating condition of FA. Time and frequency domain analysis of these biomarkers enabled the classification of individuals with FA and control subjects to reach an accuracy of 98\% and a correlation level reaching 96\% with the clinical scores.

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Somatic CAG expansion in Huntington's disease is dependent on the MLH3 endonuclease domain, which can be excluded via splice redirection

Somatic expansion of the CAG repeat tract that causes Huntington's disease (HD) is thought to contribute to the rate of disease pathogenesis. Therefore, factors influencing repeat expansion are potential therapeutic targets. Genes in the DNA mismatch repair pathway are critical drivers of somatic expansion in HD mouse models. Here, the authors have tested, using genetic and pharmacological approaches, the role of the endonuclease domain of the mismatch repair protein MLH3 in somatic CAG expansion in HD mice and patient cells. A point mutation in the MLH3 endonuclease domain completely eliminated CAG expansion in the brain and peripheral tissues of a HD knock-in mouse model (HttQ111). To test whether the MLH3 endonuclease could be manipulated pharmacologically, the investigators delivered splice switching oligonucleotides in mice to redirect Mlh3 splicing to exclude the endonuclease domain. Splice redirection to an isoform lacking the endonuclease domain was associated with reduced CAG expansion. Finally, CAG expansion in HD patient-derived primary fibroblasts was also significantly reduced by redirecting MLH3 splicing to the endogenous endonuclease domain-lacking isoform. These data indicate the potential of targeting the MLH3 endonuclease domain to slow somatic CAG repeat expansion in HD, a therapeutic strategy that may be applicable across multiple repeat expansion disorders.

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