The Battle is Personal for a Texas Father Who is Trying to Save His Own Daughter’s Life

New York City, New York – November 17, 2014 – Beyond Batten Disease Foundation (BBDF) and the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) have been selected as a national innovator by the Milken Institute and will present their breakthrough findings about juvenile Batten disease at the 6th annual Partnering for Cures, November 16-18 in New York City.

Craig and Charlotte Benson established Beyond Batten Disease Foundation in August 2008 after their then five-year-old daughter, Christiane, was diagnosed with juvenile Batten disease.  Together with hundreds of families affected by Batten disease, and many more supporters who share their hope and resolve, they are working tirelessly to create a brighter future for Christiane, and all children with Batten disease.

Watch the Benson family’s story »

Beyond Batten Disease and the New York Stem Cell Foundation hope to ramp up funding and partnerships to develop stem cell resources to investigate and explore new treatments and ultimately find a cure for juvenile Batten disease, a fatal illness-affecting children as they convene at the FasterCures, conference.  The Washington, D.C.-based center of the Milken Institute will bring together nearly 1,000 medical research leaders, investors and decision-makers to forge the collaborations needed to speed and improve outcomes-driven R&D.

NYSCF scientists have created the first iPS cells from a neurological disease and the first ever stem cell disease model from any disease.  This discovery was named Time Magazine #1 breakthrough in 2008 because it was the first time anyone has made stem cells from a person with a disease and used them to produce the type of cell that degenerated in that patient.  Again, in 2012 Time Magazine recognized the Beyond Batten Disease Foundation’s creation of a rate genetic disease test as a top ten medical breakthrough.

The induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines from skin samples of young people affected by juvenile Batten disease as well as unaffected family members.  IPS cell lines are produced by artificially “turning back the clock” on skin cells to a time when they were embryonic-like and capable of becoming any cell in the body. Reprogramming juvenile Batten iPS cells to become brain and heart cells, will provide the infrastructure needed to investigate what is going wrong with the cells adversely affected by the disease.

Thus far, efforts to study juvenile Batten disease have been done using rodent models or human skin cells; neither of which accurately mimic the disease in the brain, leaving researchers without proper tools to study the disease or a solid platform for testing drugs that prevent, halt, or reverse its progression.  This is the largest and first genetically diverse collection of human iPS cells for a pediatric brain disease.

In addition to working with BBDF to actively recruit patients and families to donate skin samples, Batten Disease Support and Research Association (BDSRA) is providing resources and technical support, spreading awareness among academic scientists, and notifying its Pharmaceutical partners.  Together, BBDF and BDSRA will ensure that juvenile Batten disease and other researchers are aware of and utilize the 48 stem cell lines resulting from this collaboration to further juvenile Batten disease research worldwide.

“We know the genetic mutations associated with juvenile Batten disease.  This partnership will result in stem cell models of juvenile Batten, giving researchers an unprecedented look at how the disease develops, speeding research towards a cure,” said Susan L. Solomon, NYSCF Chief Executive Officer.

“Working with NYSCF to generate functional neuronal subtypes from patients and families is a stellar example of one of our key strategies in the fight against juvenile Batten disease: creating resource technology with the potential to transform juvenile Batten disease research and accelerate our timeline to a cure,” said Danielle M. Kerkovich, PhD, BBDF Principal Scientist.

Juvenile Batten disease begins in early childhood between the ages of five and ten. Initial symptoms typically begin with progressive vision loss, followed by personality changes, behavioral problems, and slowed learning.  These symptoms are followed by a progressive loss of motor functions, eventually resulting in wheelchair use and premature death.  Seizures and psychiatric symptoms can develop at any point in the disease.

Juvenile Batten disease is one disorder in a group of rare, fatal, inherited disorders known as Batten disease.  Over 40 different errors (mutations) in the CLN3 segment of DNA (gene) have been attributed to juvenile Batten disease.  The pathological hallmark of juvenile Batten is a buildup of lipopigment in the body’s tissues. It is not known why lipopigment accumulates or why brain and eventually, heart cells are selectively damaged.  It is, however, clear that we need disease-specific tools that reflect human disease in order to figure this out and to build therapy.

NYSCF is a world leader in stem cell research and production with a mission to find cures for the devastating diseases of our time, including juvenile Batten disease. NYSCF has developed the NYSCF Global Stem Cell ArrayTM, an automated robotic technology that standardizes and scales stem cell production and differentiation, enabling the manufacture and analysis of large numbers of identical cells from skin samples of patients.  The Array technology allows for the production of large-scale iPS cells that have the potential to become any cell type in the body

This collaboration brings together the expertise of these two leading non-profit organizations, the support of BDSRA, and the participation of affected families, to create and make available to researchers, juvenile Batten disease iPS cell lines.

Building on the NYSCF Research Institute’s leading stem cell expertise and unique automated technology and analytics, while taking advantage of the tremendous resources and expertise of BBDF, BDSRA and affected families, this collaboration will move research in this field forward by providing the first large-scale human platform of affected cells to academic and industry scientists.  These cell lines will be a renewable source of disease-relevant human brain and heart cell populations used for 1) fundamental discovery, 2) identifying therapeutic targets, and 3) testing therapies; including cell transplantation.

* IPS stem cell breakthrough technology creates embryonic-like disease models from patient skin biopsies.  This project will NOT use human blastocytsts, embryos or any other source material.

Partnering for Cures is designed to facilitate informed investments and cultivate relationships, adapting the outcomes-oriented approach of investor conferences, and building on the networking opportunities at industry partnering meetings.  In addition to innovator presentations, it also features panels that spotlight solutions to long-standing challenges in medical research.

Beyond Batten Disease Foundation is one of 30 innovators presenting their cross-sector research collaboration to potential partners and funders at the conference.  Selected through a competitive proposal process, each partnership is aimed at reducing the time and cost of getting new medical solutions from discovery to patients.

“These collaborations address some of the thorniest issues in medical research using models that can be scaled and translated across diseases,” said FasterCures’ Executive Director Margaret Anderson.  “From re-imagining clinical trial infrastructure to improving and expanding data sharing, to creating the tools and resources needed to translate basic science into cures, they are accelerating the path from lab to market for novel – and needed – therapies.”

About The New York Stem Cell Foundation
New York Stem CF researchers have achieved several major discoveries in the field, including: the first beta cell model that accurately reflects the features of a genetic form of diabetes in June 2013; the generation of functional, immune-matched bone substitutes from patients’ skin cells (featured in The Wall Street Journal in May 2013); the discovery of a clinical cure to prevent transmission of maternally inherited mitochondrial diseases in December 2012; and, the creation of the first disease model from induced pluripotent stem cells (also named the #1 Medical Breakthrough by Time magazine in 2008). More information is available at www.nyscf.org.

About Beyond Batten Disease Foundation
Beyond Batten Disease Foundation (BBDF) is the world’s largest organization dedicated to funding research for a treatment or cure for juvenile Batten disease. Batten disease is a rare, inherited pediatric neurological disorder, which begins with vision loss and seizures, followed by cognitive and motor impairment, and ultimately death by the late teens or 20s. Since its inception in 2008, BBDF has raised over $14.6 million for research through donations, co-funding, leveraging and partnerships. BBDF is spearheading a unique, cohesive strategy, incorporating independent scientific resources and collaboration with related organizations to drive research in Batten Disease. For more information, visit www.beyondbatten.org.

About Batten Disease Support and Research Association
The Batten Disease Support and Research Association (BDSRA) is the largest nonprofit organization in North America dedicated to funding research, advancing education, providing family support services, and raising awareness of the disease and its impact. Founded in 1987, the focus of BDSRA is to help unravel the mysteries of Batten disease by bringing the worlds of science, research, and health care together toward a common goal: the discovery of treatments and cures.  For more information see: www.bdsra.org.

For more information and to register for the conference, go to www.partneringforcures.org

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