Fen-Biao Gao, PhD, professor of neurology, was recently named the Governor Paul Cellucci Chair in Neuroscience Research at UMass Medical School.
Dr. Gao is investigating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord; and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), an age-dependent neurodegenerative condition associated with focal atrophy of the frontal or temporal lobes. FTD is recognized as the most common form of dementia before the age of 60.
Progress has been made in identifying genetic mutations that cause ALS and FTD, but how these changes affect neurons and cause toxicity is still poorly understood. Gao has uncovered new information about how and why these genetic mutations cause disease. Since joining UMMS in 2010, Gao’s lab has discerned new connections between FTD and ALS, which have clinical, molecular and genetic overlaps, including one single gene that is directly linked to both conditions. Gao is working to advance understanding of these common molecular mechanisms that lead to neuronal degeneration and death.
“It’s important to identify common downstream pathways that affect both diseases. Understanding how these mutations lead to motor neuron damage is important to the development of new treatment approaches,” said Gao.
The Governor Paul Cellucci Chair in Neuroscience Research is named in honor of the late Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, with support from the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund, which for years has been successfully raising funds to support the boldest research ideas in interdisciplinary labs at UMMS.