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Feds fund dietary therapy research

July 22, 2010

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Increased federal funding has enabled SFU biologist Allison Kermode to continue work on a novel treatment to improve the quality of life for people suffering from phenylketonuria (PKU), a common metabolic genetic disease.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is providing a grant worth $564,720 over three years through its 2010 Collaborative Health Research Projects (CHRP) program. 

That’s in addition to the $304,000 Kermode received in 2004 for her research.

Kermode and her team are working to create an edible plant-based therapeutic to treat PKU.

“Developing therapeutics for human diseases is an expensive endeavour and requires extensive testing of several parameters of therapeutic efficacy and safety,” says Kermode, a professor of plant cell and molecular biology. 

“The additional resources will further allow the hiring of not only junior personnel but also senior personnel who possess specialized skills.”

PKU is a disorder that every Canadian child is screened for after birth. Early diagnosis and treatment within the first days of life prevents the severe mental retardation and behavioural problems noted in untreated cases.

The current treatment for PKU relies on the use of semi-synthetic formulas and specialized diets. But the dietary therapy is difficult to follow because the formulas are bland- tasting and people have to avoid many common foods such as meat, fish, milk, bread, cheese, cake and nuts.

Kermode hopes the new therapeutic will allow PKU patients to safely eat a relatively normal diet and enjoy a more normal lifestyle.

“The product we are developing would provide individuals that have PKU with an alternative means to maintain reduced blood phenylalanine levels, protecting them from potential neurological damage.”

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