Sandra Rieger, a researcher at the MDI Biological Laboratory, uses zebrafish in her research into peripheral neuropathy. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MDI BIOLOGICAL LABORATORY

Rieger gets grant to further neuropathy research

BAR HARBOR — Sandra Rieger of the MDI Biological Laboratory has been awarded a grant from the National Cancer Institute, an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to study the molecular mechanisms underlying chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, a side effect of cancer chemotherapy causing symptoms such as pain, tingling, temperature sensitivity and numbness in the extremities.

The grant will allow Rieger to continue her research on peripheral neuropathy caused by Taxol (paclitaxel), a chemotherapy agent used in the treatment of ovarian, breast, lung, pancreatic and other cancers. About 60 to 70 percent of patients receiving Taxol experience peripheral neuropathy. In severe cases, patients may be forced to reduce or curtail treatment, which deprives them of cancer treatment and may decrease chances of survival.

Rieger’s research also has potential applications in the treatment of peripheral neuropathies caused by other conditions, including diabetes, aging and antibiotic treatment. Neuropathy is a general term for peripheral nerve degeneration, which is believed to affect at least 20 million Americans, with some estimates as high as 40 million. No treatments are currently available other than for symptoms such as pain.

“This grant is an acknowledgement of the importance of Dr. Rieger’s research,” said Kevin Strange, president of the laboratory. “Peripheral neuropathy is much more common than generally believed. Her research on the underlying molecular mechanisms of nerve regeneration opens the door to the development of new drug therapies to help the millions who suffer from this potentially debilitating condition.”

The grant, which takes effect July 1, totals approximately $1.8 million over five years, with additional funding for facilities and administrative costs. The grant will fund Rieger’s continuing research in the zebrafish and research with neurologist Nathan P. Staff on skin samples from breast cancer patients undergoing Taxol treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The research at the Mayo Clinic, which will take place over the first two years of the grant, will seek to determine if the same mechanisms that underlie Taxol-induced peripheral neuropathy in zebrafish also are linked to the condition in humans.

“The research with Dr. Staff at the Mayo Clinic is the first step to developing a drug therapy to treat peripheral neuropathy in humans,” Rieger said. “That’s my major interest – finding a therapy to cure this condition.”

MDI Biological Laboratory scientists are pioneering new approaches to regenerative medicine focused on drugs that activate the natural ability to heal and that slow age-related degenerative changes. This unique approach has identified new drugs with the potential to treat major diseases, demonstrating that regeneration could be as simple as taking a pill. As innovators and entrepreneurs, laboratory scientists also are dedicated to teaching what they know and to helping prepare students for successful 21st-century careers.Visit

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