Dr. Maimuna Sali Paul, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Hsiao Tuan Chao at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (Duncan NRI) at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, was awarded a competitive postdoctoral fellowship for 2022 – 2023 from the National Ataxia Foundation (NAF), a non-profit committed to funding the best basic and translational research relevant to hereditary and sporadic types of ataxia. Typically, only one to five postdoctoral fellowships are awarded by NAF each year. The NAF postdoctoral fellowship awards serve as a bridge from trainee positions to junior faculty positions. They are awarded to young, talented individuals who have shown a commitment to research in the field of ataxia and whose scientific contributions enhance and invigorate ataxia research.
“Maimuna is a superbly talented scientist and I am very proud that she was chosen for this prestigious fellowship. Within just two years of postdoctoral training, she has already made many significant contributions to our understanding of cerebellar ataxias and human neurological diseases,"Dr. Chao, said. "This fellowship will support her scientific endeavors to advance our knowledge in the field of cerebellar neurobiology in the context of development and disease”.
Worldwide, an estimated 26 out of 100,000 children are affected by cerebellar ataxias, a group of heterogeneous disorders characterized by irregular gait, eye and hand movements, speech difficulties, variable non-motor features, and anatomical alterations in the brain. In 2016, Chao and colleagues discovered that the loss of a copy of the Early B-cell Factor 3 (EBF3) gene causes hypotonia, ataxia, and delayed development syndrome (HADDS). This is an autism spectrum and neurodevelopmental disorder associated with delayed development, ataxia, motor incoordination, variable neuropsychiatric co-morbidities, and cerebellar hypoplasia.
Dr. Paul was awarded the NAF fellowship for her proposal to use an integrated cross-species approach using fruit flies and mice to identify the molecular consequences of EBF3 dysfunction in syndromic cerebellar ataxias that co-occur with autism. The proposed studies are expected to advance the identification of critical EBF3-dependent molecular pathways required for the proper development and function of the cerebellum, a region of the brain that controls motor behavior and movement. In addition, she plans to elucidate the biological consequences of loss of EBF3 function on developing and mature cerebellar circuits.
“I would like to personally thank Dr. Chao for her constant support and guidance. I am grateful to NAF for funding my proposal and for providing me with this exciting opportunity to contribute towards advancing cerebellar ataxia research,” Dr. Paul added.
Additional information about this fellowship can be found here.