$1 Million Grants from Merck Fund to Support Treatments for Differently-Abled

The John Merck FundA University of Massachusetts study to correct the over-representation of chromosome 21 genes in people with Down syndrome is among three grant recipients to receive $1 million each, The John Merck Fund announced Wednesday. The Fund’s new multi-year Translational Research Program supports scientists in developing treatments and improving outcomes for people with Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome, the Fund said.

The Fund anticipates making 10 grants awards of $1 million each, the first three of which were announced this week.

“What’s especially exciting about this program is that is supports research with potential game-changing impact that is within the realm of probability — not just possibility — and could be achieved within 10 years,” said Marsha Mailick, Ph.D., Chair of The John Merck Fund’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Jeanne B. Lawrence, Ph.D., Interim Chair and Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology & Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, will study the deactivation of one of the three copies of chromosome 21 in order to functionally correct the trisomy seen in people with Down syndrome.

“The overall goal in this project is to translate recent developments in understanding these basic epigenetic mechanisms to a new research frontier in chromosome pathology that accelerates clinical translational progress in Down syndrome,” the Merck Fund said.

Other grant recipients include:

Dr. Craig A. Erickson, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who will study acamprosate (a drug that is already FDA-approved for treating alcohol dependence) as a treatment for youths with Fragile X syndrome.

David R. Hessl, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of California David MIND Institute, who will study cognitive or behavioral treatments of Fragile X syndrome and evaluate the efficacy of Cogmed, an online training program proven to enhance working memory and executive function, but not yet with Fragile X syndrome.

Information on applying for future grant awards under the Merck Fund program can be found on the fund’s website. Initial submissions for the next round of grants are due May 15, 2013.

Congratulations to all the grant recipients, and we look forward to seeing what comes of their research in the coming years.

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