USC Scientist Targets the No. 1 Genetic Cause of Infant Mortality

USC Scientist Targets the No. 1 Genetic Cause of Infant Mortality

HealthCanal.com | October 13, 2011

The disease is heartbreaking. It turns babies into ragdolls and extinguishes lives just as they are getting started. But one USC scientist is working to unravel the mystery behind the leading genetic cause of infant mortality, uncovering how Spinal Muscular Atrophy disconnects muscles from the mind.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA, is a neurodegenerative disease caused by a recessive gene mutation that results in a deficiency of the Survival of Motor Neuron, or SMN, protein. In a phenomenon called “denervation,” neurons lose their physical connection to muscles, resulting in a loss of motor control and muscle weakness.

A team of researchers lead by Chien-Ping Ko of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences has generated the first extensive study of severe denervation occurring in specific muscles affected by SMA. The data allows them to measure the effectiveness of drug treatments, and will act as a springboard for future research that explores the cause of SMA.

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