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Clinical Research Training Scholarship Recipient Announced

The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy (FPN) is pleased to announce the 2024 Clinical Research Training Scholarship (CRTS) recipient for peripheral neuropathy (PN), Francesco E. Michelassi, MD, PhD, Neuromuscular Research Fellow, Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Michelassi’s research is fully funded by FPN and will focus on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), by studying how a chemotherapy drug called Paclitaxel (PTX) might be causing this issue.

Background on CIPN

Chemotherapy drugs help treat cancer; but in about half of patients, can cause CIPN (1). This issue often leads to pain and numbness in the body. Right now, there’s no specific way to prevent or treat CIPN.

The research project

Michelassi’s team is researching how to prevent nerve damage from CIPN. Working with Michio Hirano, MD, Michelassi and a team of scientists want to understand this problem better. They believe that by boosting a specific protein called PGC1α, they might be able to protect the mitochondria and prevent nerve damage from happening. They’re planning experiments using cells and mice to test if this protein can help stop nerve damage caused by PTX.

Their goal is to find new ways to treat this nerve problem in cancer patients and learn more about how our nerves work. By doing this research, they also hope to train future doctors who can specialize in understanding and treating PN caused by illnesses or treatments like chemotherapy.

Why research CIPN?

When asked about his desire to focus on CIPN, Michelassi said he’s curious why some harmful things affect certain nerves more than others. Studying the features of different peripheral nerves will help explain why this happens.

“I want to focus my research on peripheral neuropathy because I find it fascinating how certain toxic and genetic insults preferentially target the peripheral neurons over all other neurons, especially when the proposed mechanisms for the pathophysiology of the peripheral neuropathy are biological processes required for all neurons.

For example, many genetic mutations that cause Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease are in genes critical for mitochondrial function, which is necessary for all neurons, yet selectively affects motor and sensory neurons. Even within peripheral neurons, there is differential vulnerability; in toxic causes of PN, the autonomic and sensory neurons are affected far more than motor neurons.

Overall, I am excited to explore the basic properties of the different peripheral neurons that confer vulnerability to insults in some subtypes, but not others.”

Supporting research in the field

This is the best way to discover new treatments, and eventually cures. Awarded in collaboration with the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation, and funded by the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, the goal of the CRTS is to bring exciting new talent and vision to PN research.

A scientific panel reviews all project submissions and $150,000 is awarded to the winning recipient for two years of research. The 2024 award marks the second year in this ongoing initiative, and an integral part of our overall resolve to fund more peripheral neuropathy research. Learn about the 2023 recipients.

1) Seretny M, Currie GL, Sena ES, et al. Incidence, prevalence, and predictors of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain. 2014;155(12):2461-2470.