Tammy Kielian has personal reason to research Juvenile Batten disease

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Tammy Kielian has personal reason to research Juvenile Batten disease

ABOUT THIS PHOTO: Tammy Kielian, left, professor of pathology and microbiology, took on the search for a treatment for Juvenile Batten disease when her niece, Olivia, right, was diagnosed with the rare, fatal disorder.

Tammy Kielian, Ph.D., a professor and researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has a clear reason to help discover a treatment for Juvenile Batten Disease (JBD): her niece, Olivia, is battling the rare disease.

The good news is that her research team is moving forward in a critical way.

UNMC and its technology transfer and commercialization office, UNeMed, recently entered into a licensing agreement with PlasmaTech Biopharmaceuticals to further develop a gene therapy approach discovered in Dr. Kielian’s laboratory that holds promise as a potential therapeutic.

It’s a potential breakthrough development in the fight against a devastating childhood disease that so far has no treatment or cure.

Dr. Kielian said a final product might still be years away, but her lab is working on a solution that does more than just slow disease progression.

“Ours is a demonstration of a treatment that would correct the genetic defect,” she said.

Also known as juvenile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, JBD is an inherited, autosomal recessive, neurodegenerative disorder that results in lysosomal storage problems – basically, due to a gene mutation, protein and lipids build up inside brain cells resulting in neuron death in the central nervous system. Other cells outside the brain also accumulate this material, leading to other complications typical of the disorder, including heart disease.

The first symptom is vision loss, followed by seizures, cognitive loss and motor decline. Finally, premature death.

Dr. Kielian has seen first-hand how Juvenile Batten disease can affect a family.

“It changes everything,” she said.

To help build on the research team’s momentum and take their important findings from the laboratory to the children and families who seek a medical breakthrough, the Juvenile Batten Disease Research Fund has been established at the University of Nebraska Foundation. All gifts made to this fund go immediately to support the university’s critical research, extending hope to families everywhere.

PlasmaTech, a biopharmaceutical company focused on gene therapy and cell therapy products for severe and life-threatening rare diseases, is optimistic the therapy developed in Dr. Kielian’s laboratory has the potential to succeed. The goal is to work with Dr. Kielian to advance her research into clinical trials, PlasmaTech officials said.

Steven Hinrichs, M.D., chair of pathology and microbiology, said the research turned on a key finding.

“Her laboratory demonstrated that expression of the therapeutic gene in only a few cells was able to benefit neighboring cells,” he said. “That discovery completely changes the outlook for gene therapy in Juvenile Batten disease and makes a true therapy possible for this terrible disorder.”

The therapy has demonstrated significant and promising results in animal models of the disease.

Dr. Kielian is optimistic that with continued funding and development the potential therapy could be fast-tracked.

UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, which treats children with rare genetic diseases, will be involved in the planned future clinical trials, said MMI pediatric geneticist William Rizzo, M.D.

To support UNMC’s research efforts in developing a treatment for Juvenile Batten Disease, please make a gift online to the Juvenile Batten Disease Research Fund or contact Melonie Welsh, director of development, at 402-502-4117.

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