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Medical College researcher to study potential treatment for botulism

July 2, 2012

The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) received a two-year, $420,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to investigate a promising biological avenue for treating nerves affected by botulism.

Joseph T. Barbieri, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and director of the Medical Scientist Training Program at MCW, is the principal investigator for the grant who will collaborate with MCW colleagues Allison Ebert, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy, and Jung-Ja Kim, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, to conduct this research.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria produce a nerve toxin that can cause botulism, a rare paralytic disease that afflicts approximately 145 people each year in the United States. Botulinum toxin is the most toxic protein for humans and classified as a “Category A Select Agent.” There is a limited supply of the vaccine used to treat the illness and no other approved therapies exist.

Dr. Barbieri will study a method to deliver therapies to diseased nerves. The effectiveness of this method for treating specific nerves affected by the botulinum toxin will be tested in mouse models.

This is one of the first R21/R33 grants, a new funding mechanism at the NIH, awarded to MCW. A two-year R21 grant may be transitioned into a longer-term, higher budget R33 grant if milestones are met.

This research aims to develop targeted, effective treatments for botulism, which may be useful in generating therapies for other diseases of the nervous system.

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