Albert La Spada, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, has received a 2015 Harrington Scholar award to advance his work on a therapy for spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7), a rare but devastating neurological disorder that can lead to blindness and progressive loss of physical coordination. Dr. La Spada, Chief of the Division of Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine, received a $900,000 award toward further development of a treatment which blocks the gene mutation underlying SCA7. The research may also have implications for Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which are neurodegenerative disorders with similar types of genetic mutations. The scholar award is given by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, which collaborates with various organizations to accelerate the development of promising research by physician-scientists. In particular, the funding helps researchers to bridge the gap from basic research to clinical application, known as the "Valley of Death," which can keep innovative discoveries from advancing far enough to attract pharmaceutical drug development. Dr. La Spada, who is also at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, was one of three inaugural Gund-Harrington Scholars, named after Gordon Gund, founder of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a consortium of groups funding research in the area of degenerative retinal diseases. "People with this disorder (SCA7) have trouble walking, talking, seeing - anything that requires coordinated movement," said Dr. La Spada.
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