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St. Jude and Washington University researchers receive $3.1 million NIH grant

Five-year grant will aid in the study of mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases like ALS.

Memphis, Tennessee, March 4, 2021

Researcher wearing labcoat standing in front of a shalf of lab equipment and smiling at camera.

Tanja Mittag, Ph.D., of the St. Jude Department of Structural Biology, received funds to study RNA-binding proteins that are mutated in patients with familial forms of amyothrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 

Scientists from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Washington University in St. Louis have been awarded a five-year $3.1 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an affiliate of the National Institutes of Health.

Tanja Mittag, Ph.D., of the St. Jude Department of Structural Biology, and Rohit Pappu, Ph.D., the Edwin H. Murty Professor of Engineering in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Washington University, received the funds to study RNA-binding proteins that are mutated in patients with familial forms of amyothrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The goal is to uncover the mechanisms underlying the formation of solid inclusions of these RNA-binding proteins and to enable future identification of new therapeutics for ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

The grant-funded research builds on work that demonstrated that stress granules in cells form via liquid-liquid phase separation of RNA-binding proteins.

“Phase separation promotes the formation of solid protein aggregates, but why this is the case is unclear,” Mittag said. “Our new work into the underlying mechanisms will help direct the future development of new therapeutics.”

Work that led to this award was funded by the St. Jude Research Collaborative on Membraneless Organelles. The collaborative brings together investigators at St. Jude, Washington University in St. Louis and Princeton University to accelerate progress in this field. It is one of five St. Jude Research Collaboratives developed to bring together scientists from the world’s top research programs to tackle the still-unknown. With a goal of speeding advances, the St. Jude Research Collaboratives are addressing significant gaps in knowledge for pediatric cancers, non-malignant hematological diseases and other life-threatening disorders of childhood.

“Collaboration is key to innovation when it comes to solving the complex problems we are working to unravel,” said Charles Roberts, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president, director of the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center and administrative leader of the St. Jude Research Collaboratives. “St. Jude has made a considerable investment to bring world-leading researchers together to answer some of biomedical science’s biggest questions collaboratively.”

“This is an exciting opportunity to work together and build on efforts that were catalyzed by the St. Jude Research Collaborative,” Pappu said. “Our focus is on key components of stress granules and the impact of ALS associated mutations on hitherto under appreciated aspects of pathology that are tied to arrested dynamics of proteins within stress granules. Being able to modulate these dynaics would be a novel therapeutic strategy in ALS and other neurodegenerative disorders.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.