The ALS Association sat down with Dr. Javier Jara, Research Assistant Professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who just published groundbreaking work focused on brain inflammation caused by ALS. This work was published in the July issue of the Journal of Neuroinflammation. The ALS Association has proudly supported Dr. Jara since 2010 through both our Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and a recent Investigator-Initiated Grant.
Q: Thank you for joining us today! We were happy to hear the great news that your paper was just published. It is always rewarding to hear of our scientists’ successes. Congratulations! First, our readers and I would love to know why you love working in ALS research.
A: ALS is a very complex disease in which several cellular systems are disturbed. This allows me to tackle the disease from different angles, which could be a more efficient strategy to understand disease pathways.
Q: What are the major findings of your paper?
A: This paper sought to understand the role of inflammation, especially in the motor cortex of ALS (i.e. part of the brain responsible for muscle movement). We were able to study cells that are involved in immune response in the spinal cord and brain using green and red fluorescent protein tags. These cells were increased in numbers early in the disease and we were able to observe them in the vicinity of dying upper motor neurons in the motor cortex. Our observations in human ALS motor cortex also correlated with an increase of activated cells that participate in the immune response, which is important. Our studies are novel and bring a new perspective to the role of the immune response in ALS motor cortex pathology.
“This work would not have been possible without the support of The ALS Association through the Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. Obtaining this fellowship changed my career and I am extremely grateful for the donor’s support. I encourage donors to continue their hard work to support patient care and research.” – Dr. Jara
Q: What is the significance of your research?
A: By developing a novel ALS model to investigate inflammation, we were able to set up a strong foundation for future studies to understand the role of cells involved in the immune response. Because these cells are labeled with a fluorescent tag, we can visualize and isolate them from the brain and spinal cord at different stages of disease initiation and progression. We can also use various models that develop ALS due to different underlying causes.
Q: What are your next steps?
A: We are currently investigating the secreted factors and proteins that are increased during disease in these immune cells with the hope to establish novel molecular markers and identify therapeutic pathways.
Q: When we first funded your research, you were a Postdoctoral Fellow. Since then you have been promoted to Research Assistant Professor, which is excellent! What are your future career goals?
A: I would like to set up my own line of research in the near future and for this purpose I would like to obtain an independent faculty position. In 2015, I was funded by The ALS Association to set up an independent line of investigation from Dr. Ozdinler’s lab to understand the relationship between brain injury and ALS. With The Association grant and Dr. Ozdinler’s support, I was able to investigate what happens to upper motor neurons after a single mild cortical injury insult. These studies have been fruitful and I am currently writing a manuscript.
Q: What do you enjoy doing outside the lab?
A: I am a runner and I enjoy running marathons. I have done five marathons so far, and I am always looking forward every year to start a new running season!
That is impressive! Thank you for joining us today. We are looking forward to hearing more great things out of your lab and to read your next manuscript!
Jara JH, Genç B, Stanford MJ, Pytel P, Roos RP, Weintraub S, Mesulam MM, Bigio EH, Miller RJ, Özdinler PH.
J Neuroinflammation. 2017 Jun 26;14(1):129. doi: 10.1186/s12974-017-0896-4.
Read free article here.