Wolfram Syndrome Researcher Makes Headlines

Photo of Tamara Hershey

Tamara Hershey, PhD (left), and Bridget Waller, a student in psychiatry, look at diagrams of the human brain.

Tamara Hershey was recently featured on the Washington University School of Medicine website for her studies in how fluctuations in glucose levels can influence the brain .  As well as her work as a neuroscientist, she devotes much of her time studying Wolfram syndrome.

Photo of a brain of a patient with wolfram syndrome

This brain image shows that the volume of white matter is decreased in the brain stem and the cerebellum (yellow and orange area) of young patients with Wolfram syndrome, compared with brains of young people without diabetes.

“Endocrinologists usually are interested in Wolfram syndrome because it’s a genetic form of diabetes,” she said. “But the diabetes aspect of the disorder isn’t what limits the lifespan of a patient. It’s the features outside of diabetes that are so devastating: optic nerve atrophy and neurodegeneration in the brain stem. Before we began our studies, Wolfram syndrome had not been examined extensively from a brain perspective.”

To read the full article, click the link below.
http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/26170.aspx

Snow White Fellowship

Photo of Wolfram syndrome researchers Drs. Bess Marshall, Fumi Urano, and Tamara Hershey working on Snow White Fellowship.

Wolfram syndrome researchers Drs. Bess Marshall, Fumi Urano, and Tamara Hershey.

Wolfram Moms Join Forces to Create “Snow White Fellowship”

In the fall of 2013, Stephanie Snow Gebel and Beth White decided to join forces and create “The Snow White Fellowship” at Washington University School of Medicine. The Jack & J.T. Snow Scientific Research Foundation and The Ellie White Foundation for Rare Genetic Disorders decided to join forces in fighting Wolfram syndrome, TOGETHER!

The fellowship will allow Dr. Fumihiko Urano, lead Wolfram syndrome researcher to hire additional support and expedite a cure for juvenile-onset diabetes, including type 2 and Wolfram syndrome.

“We are very fortunate to have the support of the Snow White Fellowship.  Having additional manpower working on our research and the development of potential drug therapies will allow us to achieve our goals much sooner.” – Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Patient Based Therapeutics – New Drug Candidates

New Drug Candidates

As I mentioned in my previous blogs, we have identified three FDA-approved drugs, one supplement, and new groups of drugs that can potentially delay the progression of Wolfram syndrome. We have been testing the efficacy of these drugs in cells from patients and two animal models of Wolfram syndrome. Preliminary data look good, and we have been working very hard to bring at least one drug to patients.

We have also identified a potential biomarker that would be useful for monitoring the efficacy of our new treatment. I would like to thank patients who donated blood samples to us. Recently, some families donated blood samples from patients’ siblings, and these samples were really helpful to confirm our findings.

I have been trying to establish firm relationships with biotech companies and nonprofit organizations to bring these drugs to our patients through clinical trials. Our lawyers have been helping us a lot. I will keep on pushing the envelope with my wonderful team and colleagues.

Photo of Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Dr. Fumihiko Urano

 

Dr. Fumihiko Urano is a renowned physician and scientist developing therapeutics and diagnostics for Wolfram syndrome and juvenile onset diabetes.  His areas of expertise include Wolfram syndrome, type 1 diabetes, Pediatric pathology and genetics and Molecular Endocrinology.  He is currently employed at the Washington University School of Medicine where he holds the Samuel E. Schechter Professor of Medicine, 2012 – present.

Patient-Based Therapeutics Part 6

Wolfram Syndrome iPS Cells Progress

I received many emails regarding our progress on Wolfram syndrome induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) in the past two weeks. I would like to update you on a few things. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, we have created many iPS cells from skin cells of patients with Wolfram syndrome. These iPS cells can differentiate into various types of cells including brain cells and pancreatic beta cells that are damaged in patients with Wolfram syndrome

1. Disease modeling 
We could successfully differentiate these iPS cells into neural progenitor cells. These are immature brain cells. We found that neural progenitor cells from patients are not completely damaged, which was surprising, but good news to us. Instead, they have altered calcium homeostasis. My impression right now is that cells from patients with Wolfram syndrome are “sensitive” to environmental stress, especially stimulus that changes cellular calcium levels. So we are looking for drugs that can modulate calcium homeostasis in cells to develop a treatment for Wolfram syndrome.

2. Testing drugs
As I mentioned above, we are focusing on drugs that can modulate calcium homeostasis in cells, especially endoplasmic reticulum calcium levels, to develop a treatment. Three drugs out of five candidate drugs that we have identified so far can control endoplasmic reticulum calcium levels. We are testing these three drugs using iPS cells.

3. Correcting a mutation
Using a special enzyme and artificial DNA, we are replacing an abnormal segment of Wolfram gene with a normal segment of Wolfram gene in patient-derived iPS cells. In theory, we should be able to correct altered calcium homeostasis through this process.

4. Making eye cells
A group in Columbia University Medical Center in New York could successfully make pancreatic beta cells from Wolfram syndrome iPS cells. We are collaborating with this group. So we are focusing our own efforts on making eye cells from Wolfram syndrome iPS cells. This is a collaboration project with a group in a major medical center in Japan. They have a special “recipe” for making eye cells. Because a clinical trial using this technology for an eye disease will start in a few weeks in Japan, I feel that this collaboration is so important for us. A physician and scientist who is working on this collaboration project will come to the US and work with us in a few months. The arrangement has been made, and the Japanese agency will partially support this effort.

You may be interested in a clinical study using iPS cells for an eye disease. Here is some info.
http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/07/japan-to-start-stem-cell-study-on-humans.html
http://www.riken.jp/en/pr/press/2013/20130730_1/

Photo of Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Dr. Fumihiko Urano

 

Dr. Fumihiko Urano is a renowned physician and scientist developing therapeutics and diagnostics for Wolfram syndrome and juvenile onset diabetes.  His areas of expertise include Wolfram syndrome, type 1 diabetes, Pediatric pathology and genetics and Molecular Endocrinology.  He is currently employed at the Washington University School of Medicine where he holds the Samuel E. Schechter Professor of Medicine, 2012 – present. 

Patient Based Therapeutics – Part 4

Photo of Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Patient-Based Therapeutics Part 4 – Drug Screening Progress

Based on the data obtained from our patients, animal models, and cell models of Wolfram syndrome, we found that calcium depletion of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) plays a role in the pathogenesis of Wolfram syndrome. So we have been looking for drugs that can prevent ER calcium-depletion-mediated cell death.  As of today, we have found 4 FDA-approved drugs (currently used for other diseases), one supplement, and a new category of drugs (not approved by the FDA). One of the FDA-approved drugs can prevent ER calcium-depletion and cell death in the tissue culture dish. It seems like that this drug can relieve ER stress in one animal model of Wolfram syndrome. We are working very hard to complete these preclinical studies. The ER calcium-depletion releases a molecule called MANF from the ER to the circulation. So we are carefully monitoring levels of MANF in human blood samples.
So how long will it take to bring one of these drugs to our patients? I would like to share a few thoughts.
1. There is no guarantee that these drugs will work in our patients.
2. It is a little challenging for me to predict exactly how long it will take to bring these drugs to our patients.
3. However, I have a clear plan, and am doing my best to make it happen.
Dr. Fumihiko Urano a renowned physician and scientist developing therapeutics and diagnostics for Wolfram syndrome and juvenile onset diabetes.  His areas of expertise include Wolfram syndrome, type 1 diabetes, Pediatric pathology and genetics and Molecular Endocrinology.  He is currently employed at the Washington University School of Medicine where he holds the Samuel E. Schechter Professor of Medicine, 2012 – present.

Wolfram Clinic

Image of the WUSM logoIn September of 2009 we established the Internet-based International Wolfram Syndrome Registry. As the prevalence is estimated at 1 in 200,000-700,000, the Registry was established to provide a cohort of patients for future studies.

We have extended the clinical arm of this project to acquire longitudinal data on the pattern of disease progression and identify potential biomarkers. The first Wolfram Syndrome Research Clinic was held August 6-7, 2010, supported by contributions from the Department of Medicine, Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The Clinic was held primarily in the Pediatric Clinical Research Unit located on the 11th floor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and has six components. This clinic represents a joint research and clinical activity in collaboration with the Divisions of Adult and Pediatric Endocrinology, Ophthalmology, Pediatric Neurology, Radiology, Psychiatry, and Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. Monitoring disease progression will serve as the basis for clinical intervention when therapeutic agents become available. The second clinic was held in 2011 and largely supported by the Snow Foundation.

Since 2010, we have hosted a research clinic annually for five consecutive years. Our next research clinic will be held in July 2015. These multidisciplinary clinics have also provided the opportunities to assemble a team of physician scientists with first-hand knowledge of this rare disease who can provide a valuable resource for patients and their families now and in the future. Together with the Snow Foundation, we are currently planning interventional studies as well as patient centered Wolfram syndrome subspecialty clinic.

Research Reports From Washington University

Introducing… the Washington University Wolfram Syndrome Study Group!

By Dr. Tamara Hershey

Photo of Dr. Tamara Hershey

Dr. Tamara Hershey

I would like to tell you about the big picture of research and clinical activities at Washington University focused on Wolfram Syndrome. There are three parts to this effort 1) Diagnostic markers and treatment  development for Wolfram syndrome using animal models and human cells, led by Dr. Fumi Urano (see his previous blog postings here); 2) Patient-oriented natural history studies, led by me — Dr. Tamara Hershey) to determine the trajectory of Wolfram Syndrome-related neurological changes, providing the necessary background information for future clinical trials and 3) Expert clinical screening and care for Wolfram Syndrome, led by Dr. Bess Marshall. Dr. Marshall and other WU physicians now have the most in-depth clinical experience with Wolfram Syndrome in the nation and perhaps the world, providing the basis for a true clinical center of excellence.

Photo of Wash U Team of Drs.

(Left to Right): Dr. Fumihiko Urano, Dr. Tamara Hershey, and Dr. Bess Marshall

Fumi, Bess and I work as a team on all three of these aspects of Wolfram Syndrome research and care. We are in almost daily contact with each other to push our work further and problem solve together. It has been a privilege to work with both of them on something we are all so passionate about. In addition, we work with a large team of dedicated clinical and research faculty and staff, who we collectively refer to as the WU Wolfram Syndrome Study Group. Their names are below. I want you to know that there are a lot of talented and dedicated people here at WU working hard on the behalf of all Wolfram Syndrome families!

Photo of Dr. Timothy Barrett

Dr. Timothy Barrett

We are also in contact with collaborators across the world, including Dr. Tim Barrett in the UK and others, to pool our experimental and clinical data and share measurement tools and ideas. We hope that in the future, these collaborations will provide the basis for a multi-center international clinical trial network. We are committed to being ready to implement an efficient, high quality clinical trial, as soon as a safe drug is identified with strong experimental evidence suggesting that it might help.

WU Wolfram Syndrome Study Group Leaders:  F. Urano (Medicine), T. Hershey (Psychiatry, Radiology, Neurology) and B. Marshall (Pediatrics)  P. Austin, M.D. (Surgery) G. Earhart, Ph.D. (Physical Therapy) S. Eisenstein, Ph.D. (Psychiatry) J. Garbow (Radiology) J. Hoekel, O.D. (Ophthalmology) T. Hullar, M.D. (Otolaryngology) R. Karzon, Ph.D. (Audiology & Communication Sciences) H. M. Lugar, M.A. (Psychiatry) L. Manwaring, M.S. (Pediatrics) A. R. Paciorkowski, M.D. (Neurology, U Rochester) K. Pickett, Ph.D. (Physical Therapy) S. Ranck, MSW (Psychiatry) J. Rutlin, B.S. (Psychiatry) J. Shimony, M.D., Ph.D. (Radiology) A. Viehoever, M.D. (Neurology) N. H. White M.D., CDE (Pediatrics) In memoriam: A. Permutt, M.D. (Medicine) J. Wasson B.S. (Medicine)

Patient-Based Therapeutics Part 2

Photo of Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Research Update from
Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Patient-Based Therapeutics Part 2

We are taking an unconventional approach to develop therapeutics for Wolfram syndrome. I would call it “patient-based therapeutics.” This implies a few things. One of these is the “mechanism-based treatment.” How can we achieve this component of “patient-based therapeutics” for Wolfram syndrome? Here are our current efforts.

1. Looking for FDA-approved drugs that can potentially halt progression of Wolfram syndrome (drug repurposing).
We looked for drugs that can protect cell death mediated by the leakage of calcium from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to the cytosol. We found four FDA approved drugs and one supplement so far. We are testing these drugs in Wolfram iPSC-derived neural progenitor cells and mouse models of Wolfram syndrome.

2. Looking for a new class of drugs that can protect cell death mediated by endoplasmic reticulum dysfunction.
We have developed a drug screening method to identify drugs that can protect cell death mediated by ER dysfunction. In collaboration with a non-profit organization, we are actively looking for a new class of drugs that can potentially halt the progression of Wolfram.

3. Testing if MANF (mesencephalic astrocyte-derived neurotrophic factor) can suppress the ER calcium leakage-mediated neuronal cell dysfunction in Wolfram iPSC-derived neural progenitor cells.

I will talk about more on MANF some other time. I thought that this was a good biomarker for Wolfram syndrome because expression of this molecule is increased by ER dysfunction. However, the increase of MANF might be an adaptive mechanism of our cells to cope with abnormal ER function.

Dr. Fumihiko Urano a renowned physician and scientist developing therapeutics and diagnostics for Wolfram syndrome and juvenile onset diabetes.  His areas of expertise include Wolfram syndrome, type 1 diabetes, Pediatric pathology and genetics and Molecular Endocrinology.  He is currently employed at the Washington University School of Medicine where he holds the Samuel E. Schechter Professor of Medicine, 2012 – present.

2013 Wolfram Clinic

4th Annual Clinic on Wolfram Syndrome Held at St. Louis Children’s Hospital  July 17-20th

The 2013 Wolfram Research Clinic was run over four days in mid July. A total of 22 patients, six of which were new, participated in MRI scans and many other measurements, totaling up to 326 individual appointments. This clinic is now truly international, with two families from outside of the US. Many researchers, clinicians, staff, volunteers and interpreters helped make this research clinic run smoothly and comfortably for the families. Highlights of the clinic include The Snow Foundation’s family dinner at The Wildflower Cafe and the Saturday research/clinical update for families. Speakers included Tamara Hershey, FumihikoUrano, Bess Marshal, and several other faculty members. For a look at the presentation that was given click on the link below.

2013 Wolfram Clinic Research Update