Frick Foundation for ALS Research
Frick Foundation for ALS Research
Group 1: Biochemical and genetic analysis of FUS-p32 interaction

Maria Teresa Carrì and Gianluca Cestra, University of Rome and National Research Council of Rome, Italy

Maria Teresa CarriMaria Teresa Carrì is Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. She is a biochemist and neuroscientist. She received her degree in Biology from the University of Rome Sapienza in 1981 and is currently a professor of Biochemistry in the Department of Biology at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”.

Dr. Carrì served for several years as Member of the Commission for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis of the Italian Ministry of Health. She is also chairman of the School of Biotechnology in her University, Elected Member of the Scientific Board of the Italian “Inter-Universities Center for research in Basic Mechanisms of Neurodegenerative Diseases” and Associate Editor for Neurochemistry International.

Over the past twenty years, Dr. Carrì’s projects have mainly focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying ALS pathogenesis. She uses a combination of cell and animal models to investigate two primary areas of interest: the impact of misfolded SOD1 on neuronal viability and the role of mitochondrial damage in different models for familial ALS.

Gianluca CestraGianluca Cestra, PhD joined the Institute of Molecular Biology and Pathology (IBPM) of the National Research Council (CNR) of Rome in 2010. He obtained his PhD at the University of Rome Tor Vergata in 1999 studying the binding specificity of synaptic endocytic proteins.

He spent the majority of his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Pietro De Camilli at the Department of Cell Biology and HHMI of Yale Medical School with focus on synaptic vesicle endocytosis and synaptogenesis.

In the last year of postdoc he joined the lab of Fly Genetics of Tian Xu, at the Department of Genetics and HHMI of Yale Medical School, where he studied synaptic vesicle recycling in Drosophila melanogaster.

In 2006 Dr. Cestra came back to Italy and established an independent research group combining the use of Drosophila as model system for ALS with cell biology and biochemistry of mammalian motor neurons.

Group 2: Investigating the causal link between impaired calcium homeostasis calcium signaling and ER stress in ALS

Smita Saxena, Ph.D. Institute of Cell Biology, University of Bern, Switzerland

Smita SaxenaDr. Saxena is an Assistant Professor at the University of Bern since June 2010. Her research is focused on understanding cellular stress mechanisms underlying motoneuron vulnerability in ALS. Using in vivo animal models and ex vivo spinal cord slice cultures we investigate several key questions related to ALS such as the link between ER stress and Calcium homeostasis, and the identification and evaluation of genetic modifiers of ALS as therapeutic targets.

She completed my Ph.D. in September 2004 at the University of Bern in Cell Biology. The main focus of her thesis was to examine neuroprotective signaling aspects of nerve growth factor (NGF). I moved for my postdoctoral studies to the laboratory of Dr. Pico Caroni at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel from 2004 until 2010. Here I investigated aspects of selective vulnerability of alpha motoneurons in ALS. Performing longitudinal transcriptome analysis of disease vulnerable and disease resistant motoneurons, we identified that Fast Fatiguable motoneurons were selectively prone to progressive ER stress and unfolded protein response which was followed by denervation of their target muscle fiber.

In March 2010, she was awarded the Swiss National Science Foundation Professorship and she started her own laboratory at the Institute of Cell Biology in Bern where we continue focus on  disease mediated stress mechanisms in ALS and in Spinocerebellar ataxia 1 (SCA1).