Ataxia Research Program

We are leading the country in understanding the mechanisms causing hereditary ataxia and developing novel therapies for this disorder. 

Progressive Cerebellar Ataxia is a relatively rare clinical syndrome for which curative therapies are often not available. Some types of ataxias are inherited, with the most common forms resulting from specific gene defects that generate neurotoxic proteins. 

The University of the Michigan is widely recognized as a national leader in both ataxia care and research.

Mechanistic Research

Investigators in the Ataxia Research Program study the underlying disease mechanisms of different inherited ataxias with a goal of developing treatment strategies for what are now largely untreatable disorders. Two clinician-researchers within our department form the core of ataxia research enterprise. Henry Paulson, M.D., Ph.D. studies spinocerebellar ataxia type three and the toxic proteins that are produced in this condition. Peter Todd, M.D., Ph.D. studies how nucleotide repeat expansions in ataxia genes cause neurotoxicity and cerebellar dysfunction. Several non-clinician research investigators in the department also conduct studies aimed at better understanding and correcting the genetic causes of Spinocerebellar Ataxia. Hayley McLoughlin, Ph.D. is a new tenure track faculty who is leading the charge in development of antisense oligonucleotide therapies for Spinocerebellar Ataxias. Maria do Carmo Costa, Ph.D. is developing small molecule therapeutics for Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 3 in preclinical models. Magda Ivanova, Ph.D. uses biophysical studies to understand how proteins misfold and contribute to neurodegeneration and ataxia.

Clinical Studies and Consortia 

Michigan participates in several clinical studies and consortia related to cerebellar ataxia, including clinical trials of new medications and drugs. Amy Ferng, M.D., who serves as the co-director of the Ataxia Clinic, is the lead on clinical trail work and interfaces with the National Ataxia Foundation and related organizations.

Genetic Research

Margit Burmeister, Ph.D. in the department of Human Genetics, collaborates with Drs. Todd, Paulson, and Ferng using the latest approaches to identify novel disease-causing ataxia genes. Other investigators at the University of Michigan are dedicated to understanding gait disorders and speech disturbance, both of which are closely linked to ataxia.