The Pew Charitable Trusts has awarded Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Professor Adrian Krainer and his collaborator Paola Haeger Soto, an associate professor at the Universidad Católica del Norte in Chile, a $200,000 Innovation Fund grant. The researchers will investigate the biology behind fetal alcohol syndrome.
The Pew Innovation Fund encourages cross-disciplinary collaborations to tackle biological questions in new ways. The award supports collaborations between graduates of earlier-career Pew programs. Krainer was a Pew Biomedical Scholar, whereas his collaborator was a Pew Latin American Fellow. They are one of six pairs of researchers selected this year.
Krainer’s laboratory specializes in how RNA is processed after it is made. Proteins, the building blocks of every process in the body, begin in the DNA of our genes and are transcribed into strings of RNA. RNA is then refined by snipping out and reconnecting fragments into different arrangements, like old-fashioned movie film that is spliced together. These “spliced” RNAs are used as a template for making proteins. A wrong splice yields a bad protein. Krainer and his team study how RNA splicing is disturbed in various diseases.
Haeger Soto is a neuroscientist who studies fetal alcohol syndrome. Krainer says, “Paola found fetal alcohol syndrome is associated with changes in gene expression, particularly in RNA splicing. During the next two years, we will combine our efforts to identify key RNA splicing alterations associated with fetal alcohol syndrome and determine how they contribute to the condition.”
Krainer’s and collaborators’ work has already led to the development of one therapy to treat a splicing disease—Spinraza®—to treat the neurodegenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy. He is hoping to apply a similar research methodology for treating fetal alcohol syndrome.