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Neurological Diseases Experts and Information for Media

Catastrophic neurological disorders in children are among the greatest medical challenges of our time. They are wide-ranging with various causes, complications and outcomes and often require life-long management. With a strong foundation in basic science — especially in neuroscience and genetics — St. Jude has a unique opportunity to push treatment boundaries by developing new therapies and treatments around the underlying genetic defects that characterize these disorders. That’s why St. Jude created the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative (PTNI), which leverages the scientific strength and expertise in experimental therapeutics to alter the landscape of pediatric neurological diseases, including genetically based epilepsies, muscular dystrophies, spinal muscular atrophy, ataxias, neuropathies, neurodevelopmental disorders, neurometabolic and neurodegenerative disorders.

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Neurological Diseases Experts

  • Richard S. Finkel, MD

    Richard Finkel, MD, St. Jude Department of Pediatric Medicine, leads the Center for Experimental Neurotherapeutics (CENT), which facilitates the rapid clinical development of promising treatments for catastrophic pediatric neurological diseases. It is the clinical arm of the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative. Finkel is an expert in spinal muscular atrophy — the leading genetic killer of children — and played a vital role in developing two of the first three successful therapies for this disease.

  • Peter J. McKinnon, PhD

    Peter McKinnon, PhD, leads the Center for Pediatric Neurological Disease Research, part of the groundbreaking Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative at St. Jude. He studies the role of the DNA damage response in the nervous system and how it can be used to prevent disease. Mutations in various factors involved in DNA damage response can lead to human diseases characterized by pronounced neuropathology. The nervous system poses a particular challenge regarding clinical intervention; understanding how DNA repair deficiency impacts the nervous system will be important for designing therapies to target neurodegeneration and brain tumors. 

  • J. Paul Taylor, MD, PhD

    Executive Vice President J. Paul Taylor, PhD, St. Jude Scientific Director and Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative director, also leads basic research at St. Jude on neurologic disease. His research aims to reduce morbidity and mortality from such diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Taylor has identified genes responsible for ALS and learned how mutations in these genes disrupt the way cells process RNA. He is also an expert on biomolecular condensates and how the processes that govern phase separation are involved in neurologic disease.