AUSTIN, Texas—Dr. Ellen Gottlieb, a molecular biologist at The University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded a $229,700 grant from a foundation in Liberty, Texas, for her research into the causes of and treatments for a certain form of muscular dystrophy.
The funds belonged to the Liberty Muscular Dystrophy Research Foundation Inc., which became inactive after its founders — two sisters suffering from the disease — died.
There are at least nine kinds of muscular dystrophy (MD) and Dr. Gottlieb, after researching the sisters, their siblings and their descendants, believes she is studying the type of MD that they had.
The sisters, Nadine and Sallie Woods, were diagnosed with the disease in 1944 and six years later started the nation’s first research foundation for muscular dystrophy (chartered as the National Muscular Dystrophy Research Foundation in 1950). They raised money for research and started the first national registry of people with MD.
Former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was its first President and they engaged such celebrities as Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and John Wayne to promote their cause.
Gottlieb indicated her research team, in collaboration with Dr. Jerry Mendell at Ohio State University, recently uncovered the likely molecular mechanism underlying this particular form of muscular dystrophy, which is called myotonic muscular dystrophy.
This investigation grew out of her basic research on the regulation of gene expression, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The Liberty Foundation money will allow Gottlieb’s team to examine this disease in more detail. Such efforts may ultimately lead to novel gene therapies for the treatment this disease, the most common form of adult onset muscular dystrophy.
"This opens up a whole new avenue of research for us," said Gottlieb. "It’s a very good fit in terms of what they (the foundation) were about and what we do."
Ed Pickett, a Liberty attorney who worked on finding a proper research project to fund with the remaining assets of the foundation, said there were several attempts to find the right place for the funding before the opportunity with Gottlieb surfaced.
"Dr. Gottlieb’s project surfaced and it was an exact match with the foundation’s principles," Pickett said.
The courts and the attorney general’s office blessed the bequest and a check for the foundation’s cash assets was presented to Gottlieb at a ceremony in Liberty on Sept. 11.
"This ends a chapter of local and national history of great importance," Pickett said.