Scientist Wins Fellowship to Study Commonalities of Sanfilippo and Alzheimer’s

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by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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The 2021 Race Against Dementia post-doctoral fellowship has been awarded to scientist Karissa Barthelson, PhD, to investigate the common pathways underlying dementia in Alzheimer’s disease and Sanfilippo syndrome.

The outcomes of this project may identify shared mechanisms and lead to the development of therapies for both conditions, according to a press release by the Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation.

The three-year fellowship grant, totaling AU$405,000 (about $296,000), was award by the Dementia Australia Research Foundation.

“I am so delighted that we have been able to appoint another talented Australian scientist to help in our race against dementia,” Sir Jackie Stewart, an order of the British Empire awardee and founder of the Race Against Dementia charity, said in a press release.

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Sanfilippo syndrome, also known as mucopolysaccharidosis type III, is a genetic disorder that leads to a form of childhood dementia, often called “childhood Alzheimer’s.”

Barthelson has been working in the lab of professor Michael Lardelli, PhD, at the University of Adelaide, Australia, which has been investigating Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade using zebrafish as an animal model. These small fish have several advantages for conducting research, which include their well-characterized biology, low costs, and easy manipulation.

In January 2021, they began working on Sanfilippo syndrome after receiving an Incubator Grant from the Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation to develop new Sanfilippo zebrafish models — one for each of its subtypes A, B and C.

Barthelson now will use the Alzheimer’s and Sanfilippo zebrafish models developed in Lardelli’s lab to investigate common brain molecular mechanisms underlying dementia in both diseases. Eventually, this project may pinpoint new players driving dementia in both disorders, which may lead to the development of novel therapeutics.

“Karissa’s research is interesting and different. We desperately need innovative ways of looking at dementia — so Race Against Dementia is delighted to support her,” Stewart said.

Barthelson will conduct her work in the lab of professor Kim Hemsley, PhD, a Sanfilippo researcher at Flinders University, Australia, in collaboration with Lardelli. She will be co-supervised by professor Ralph Martins, PhD, an internationally renowned researcher in Alzheimer’s disease, and Nicholas Smith, MD, a practicing pediatric neurologist specialized in genetic childhood dementias.

“This fellowship forms part of the Dementia Australia Research Foundation 2021 Dementia Grants Program, with more than $4.5 million in fellowship and project grant funding awarded to early and mid-career researchers,” said professor Graeme Samuel, chair of the Dementia Australia Research Foundation.