New Lab Advances ALS Research
Les Turner ALS Foundation and Wenske Foundation fortify ALS research efforts through creation of second ALS laboratory
|(L to R) Dr. P. Hande Ozdinler; Harvey Gaffen, president of the Les Turner ALS Foundation; and Dr. Teepu Siddique|
The opening of the Feinberg School’s second Les Turner ALS laboratory was celebrated at a November reception in the atrium of the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center. This lab, directed by P. Hande Ozdinler, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, strengthens Feinberg’s reputation as one of the nation’s premier centers for research into the causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The first laboratory is directed by Teepu Siddique, MD, the Les Turner ALS Foundation/Herbert C. Wenske Foundation Professor of Neurology and director of the Neuromuscular and Neurogenetic Disorders Program. Both laboratories are funded with support by the Les Turner ALS Foundation, the Chicago area’s only independent, publicly supported nonprofit organization devoted solely to the elimination of ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The second lab also is funded by the Herbert C. Wenske Foundation.
Dr. Ozdinler, who comes to the Feinberg School of Medicine from Harvard Medical School, will be leading the research lab that focuses on the cell biology of neurons that specifically die in ALS. These are the motor neurons in the cortex and the motor neurons in the spinal cord. Her work will focus on the corticospinal motor neurons that reside in the cortex and send out projections to the spinal cord. These neurons, together with spinal motor neurons control our movements and progressively degenerate in ALS. The cellular and molecular mechanisms of their survival and death are not known.
For Dr. Ozdinler, the journey to become an ALS researcher began in her native Turkey. After completing an undergraduate degree and master’s degree in molecular biology and genetics in her homeland, she came to the United States, earning her PhD in cell biology, anatomy, and neuroscience at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. Her interests in neuroscience and cell biology led her to Harvard Medical School, where she trained under the direction of Jeffrey Macklis, MD, a world-renowned expert on stem cell biology, and the first scientist to identify the molecular controls directing differentiation of corticospinal motor neurons. Drs. Ozdinler and Macklis developed new approaches to purify and culture these neurons, which then allowed them to dissect the mechanisms by which their morphology is regulated. They published their groundbreaking discovery in 2006 in Nature Neuroscience showing that insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) specifically enhances corticospinal motor neuron axon outgrowth both in vitro and in vivo. These results may help guide future efforts to use IGF-1 to enhance the outgrowth and functional connectivity of damaged neurons.
At the Feinberg School, Dr. Ozdinler will focus on the subtype-specific neuron populations in the cortex and investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that are important for their survival, differentiation, and cell-type specific degeneration in disease. “It is important to understand the cell-type specificity in neurodegenerative diseases,” she says. “We hope to make contributions to the understanding of the biology of the disease.”