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University of Arizona researcher awarded $3M to study cerebral palsy

(University of Arizona Photo/Sun Czar Belous)

PHOENIX — Dr. Michael Kruer, a researcher at the University of Arizona, received a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study genomics in cerebral palsy, the university announced Thursday.

Cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects body movement in 1 in 250 children, has been believed to be caused by premature birth, infections and lack of oxygen to the brain.

But Kruer plans to study the one-third of people with cerebral palsy who don’t have these risk factors, looking to see if mutated genes may be a cause.

“We already know that major neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, intellectual disability and epilepsy have a strong genetic basis,” Kruer said in a news release.

“Our findings indicate that identifying genetic causes of CP (cerebral palsy) can serve as a window into the fundamental basis of the disorder, and are already telling us that in many cases CP results from a ‘wrong turn’ during early brain development,” he said.

Kruer is the chair of the International Cerebral Palsy Genomics Consortium and the director of the Cerebral Palsy and Pediatric Movement Disorders Program at Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He cared for a family 10 years ago that had four children with cerebral palsy. This experience sparked his interest in the disorder, which he started studying three years ago.

With the grant comes a plan to enroll 500 people with the disorder and their parents, sequence their genomes and hopefully discover genes that could be the cause.

After this first phase, the lab plans to study effects of gene mutations on human cells, yeast and flies.

“We hope to identify many new ‘CP genes’ and uncover ways that they converge to affect brain development,” Kruer said.

“We think in the near term, this will lead to new diagnostics and closure for families, while also affecting the trajectory of CP research,” he said.

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