Dr. Young Ah Seo from the University of Michigan
A University of Michigan researcher was awarded a new grant to continue her work into seeking potential treatments for BPAN, now the most common form of NBIA.
Dr. Young-Ah Seo received a one-year grant of $66,366 from the annual Million Dollar Bike Ride. Money raised by NBIA families and friends was matched up to $30,000 by the University of Pennsylvania Orphan Disease Center.
“The overall goal of this project is to develop new therapeutic strategies that can reduce brain iron overload and iron-induced neurodegeneration in BPAN patients,” Seo says. “We previously identified that a naturally occurring small molecule is exceptionally effective at promoting iron mobilization.”
The goal now is to use cell models derived from BPAN individuals to test whether that small molecule can be used to stave off the damage the disorder causes.
Seo completed a study in August 2021, “Defining the Roles of Iron in BPAN,” after receiving a first-ever early-career research grant from the NBIA Disorders Association for $150,000 in 2018.
That study’s objective was to identify the key proteins and pathways that are associated with the brain’s iron accumulation when the WDR45 gene is deficient in individuals with Beta-propeller protein-associated neurodegeneration. The study also examined how neurodegeneration is affected by the altered iron uptake and metabolism.
Seo’s team created a cell model of BPAN without the WDR45 gene, which showed increased levels of iron, suggesting it accurately reflected the condition seen in individuals with BPAN.
Additionally, they observed that the accumulation of iron within the model was linked to an impairment in the process that aims to prevent a dangerous amount of iron from being stored in the brain. Lastly, the deficiency in the WDR45 gene’s protein led to an excess of iron in the mitochondria, altered the mitochondrial metabolism and caused overproduction of toxic reactive oxygen species, which are highly reactive molecules that can lead to cell damage.
The findings of the first study have been published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, titled "A neurodegeneration gene, WDR45, links impaired ferritinophagy to iron accumulation."
Seo’s Million Dollar Bike Ride-funded research, titled “Reversing Brain Iron Overload in BPAN by a Natural Small Molecule,” continues the work of the prior grant and aims to develop new therapeutic strategies that can reduce the iron accumulation in the brain and the resulting neurodegeneration in patients with BPAN.
Seo says that she is “very happy to be awarded the BPAN grant,” and is “looking forward to working on this project.” She also says that she plans to apply for a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health to further that research. First, however, she says she needs to wait on “more preliminary data from BPAN animal models as well as the preliminary data from this new grant.”