Dr. Kevin Kenna has been awarded a Vidi grant worth €800.000 from The Dutch Research Council. Kenna, working in the group of Jan Veldink at the department Neurogenetics of the UMC Utrecht Brain Center, has gotten the grant for his proposal ‘Decoding genetic disease by decoding gene regulation’.

Kevin: “My research aims to identify the genetic causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a terminal neurological disease caused by degeneration in the brain and spinal cord. Best evidence indicates that ALS is primarily the result of rare DNA mutations. If these mutations can be found then they could prove correctable using new technologies such as gene therapy. However, finding truly harmful DNA mutations is a major challenge as they are hidden among the immense number of benign ‘bystander’ mutations that we all carry.”

This project seeks to overcome this challenge by developing computational algorithms to predict whether and how DNA mutations may be toxic. Specifically, the project will study how mutations effect RNA, the mechanism through which DNA instructions are communicated to the rest of the body. Kevin: “This will involve taking specialized measures of DNA signaling in living brain/spinal cord cells, as well as post-mortem tissue from ALS patients and healthy controls. Once validated, the computational tools will be made available for use in other genetic disorders. Identifying ALS mutations also means that if requested, genetic testing can be provided to the families of ALS patients.”