Advances in ataxia research focus of FARA-USF symposium

Tampa, FL (Aug. 19, 2011) – Scientists, clinicians and patients will gather Aug. 25 at the University of South Florida to discuss research progress that may lead to therapies for Friedrich’s ataxia and related disorders.

The scientific symposium “Cultivating a Cure” will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 25, in the USF Marshall Student Center Ballroom, 4103 Cedar Circle, Tampa, FL 33620. The symposium, free and open to the public, is hosted by the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA) and the USF Ataxia Research Center (ARC). At the pre-symposium poster session, from 5 to 6 p.m., attendees will have the opportunity to learn about new research on Friedreich’s ataxia and talk directly to investigators about the findings.

Friedreich’s ataxia is a rare, debilitating neuromuscular disorder. Symptoms, typically emerging between ages 5 and 15, often progress to severe disability and include the following: loss of coordination and muscle weakness that leads to wheelchair use, energy deprivation and fatigue, vision impairment, hearing loss, slurred speech, aggressive scoliosis, diabetes, and life-shortening cardiac disease. There is not yet an approved treatment or a cure.

“The Friedreich’s Ataxia Syposium will highlight the latest cutting edge research from internationally recognized leaders in the field,” said Theresa Zesiewicz, MD, professor of neurology and director of the USF Ataxia Research Center, who will moderate the symposium, including a patient panel discussion.

Symposium speakers will include Mark Napierala, PhD, assistant research professor at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Guy Miller, MD, PhD, CEO of Edison Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Dr. Napierala is working on identifying potential new compounds to treat Friedreich’s ataxia and testing them in cell lines derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (adult cells genetically reprogrammed to a stem cell-like state). Edison Pharmaceuticals develops drugs for rare inherited mitochondrial diseases, including Friedreich’s.

Lynn Wecker, PhD, professor of neuropharmacology at USF Health, will give an update of her research investigating the effect of the nicotinic drugs, like the smoking cessation drug varenicline, on an animal model for spinocerebellar ataxia type 3. Jeannie Stephenson, PT, MS, of the USF School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences, will discuss a USF study testing gait and balance biomarkers that may provide more sensitive measures for detecting the progression of Friedreich’s ataxia.

Ron Bartek, president and co-founder of FARA, will address progress nationwide in the research, care and management of Friedreich’s ataxia. Stephen Klasko, MD, MBA, CEO for USF Health and dean of the College of Medicine, will address the symposium participants, with input from Clifton Gooch, MD, chair of neurology at USF Health.

USF is one of 11 sites included in FARA’s Collaborative Clinical Research Network, an international network of centers that share data and resources to advance treatments and clinical research for people with Friedreich’s ataxia.

For more information about the upcoming symposium, please call (813) 974-5909.

For more information about the FARA Energy Ball to raise research funds for Friedreich’s and other ataxias, please visit

– About USF Health –

USF Health is dedicated to creating a model of health care based on understanding the full spectrum of health. It includes the University of South Florida’s colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Public Health and Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. Ranked 34th in federal research expenditures for public universities by the National Science Foundation, the University of South Florida is a high impact global research university.

– About The Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA) –

The Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance is a non-profit organization dedicated to dedicated to curing Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) through research. FARA grants and activities provide support for basic and translational FA research, pharmaceutical/ biotech drug development, clinical trials, and scientific conferences. FARA also serves as a catalyst, between the public and scientific community, to create worldwide exchanges of information that drive medical advances. For more information, go to

Media contacts:
Anne DeLotto Baier,, or
Susanna Martinez Tarokh,
USF Health Communications,  (813) 974-3300