CHICAGO, March 6, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the Muscular Dystrophy Association continues to enhance its research and healthcare services programs, the organization has hired two new Scientific Program Officers, Amanda Haidet-Phillips, Ph.D and Laura Hagerty, Ph.D. They will report to Grace Pavlath, Ph.D, who joined MDA late last year as Senior Vice President and Scientific Program Director, and together will lead MDA as it accelerates new front-line discovery that lead to treatments and cures for various types of neuromuscular and motor neuron diseases.
"We are thrilled to have Amanda and Laura on our team, and I'm confident their depth of clinical and scientific knowledge will enable MDA to accelerate progress for the families we serve and the larger research community," said Valerie A. Cwik, M.D., MDA Executive Vice President and Chief Medical and Scientific Officer. "Both scientists are deeply immersed in research and development and bring tremendous expertise in the neuromuscular and motor neuron disease field. Their hires are a very tangible sign of MDA's urgent, passionate commitment to pursue new life-saving discoveries and unlock breakthroughs through our research program."
MDA has an aggressive plan in place to significantly increase and refocus its research investments; forge new partnerships with biopharmaceutical companies and others; facilitate more clinical trials; improve the quality of care, services and therapies for families; and open new channels to connect with people who need MDA's assistance. This past year MDA funded 250 research projects in 11 countries. It also operates a network of more than 150 clinics nationwide assisting more than 100,000 registered families.
Haidet-Phillips comes to MDA from Johns Hopkins University where she was a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Nicholas Maragakis, renowned amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) researcher and clinician. Prior to John's Hopkins University, Amanda completed her doctoral studies in The Center for Gene Therapy at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Her accomplishments and contributions have earned her recognition in the ALS community. Amanda has co-authored 15 peer-reviewed manuscripts and her research has been supported through grants from NIH, The ALS Association, and most recently, a development grant from MDA to investigate how cells known as upper motor neurons, located in the frontal cortex of the brain, degenerate in ALS. Her concentration on MDA's research team will be in motor neuron and nerve diseases, including ALS, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and spinal-bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA).
"MDA's mission is one that I have been working toward my entire career – to find treatments and cures to combat the devastating effects of motor neuron diseases," Haidet-Phillips said. "I've had the opportunity to learn from renowned and respected leaders in the ALS research field while making significant contributions, and I look forward to helping MDA achieve its mission."
Hagerty joins MDA from GlaxoSmithKline, where she was as an investigator within its Skeletal Muscle Metabolism Discovery Unit. As a muscle physiologist with over seven years of combined research experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, she has worked to develop treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and other neuromuscular disorders. She earned her doctorate in pharmacology, with a certificate in biological chemistry from Duke University. Her concentration on MDA's research team will consist of a portfolio of muscle diseases including DMD.
"I am honored and excited to join an organization that has played a major role in neuromuscular disease research breakthroughs," Hagerty said. "In my most recent work in developing treatments for DMD, I have seen firsthand what a promising time this is for muscular dystrophy research. I look forward to applying my skill set in working directly with the communities who will benefit from these treatments."
As MDA's scientific program officers, Haidet-Phillips and Hagerty will be based in Baltimore, Maryland and Durham, North Carolina respectively. Both will provide leadership for MDA through interactions with federal agencies, international neuromuscular disease partners, philanthropists, investors, drug development groups and bio-pharmaceutical companies, as well as with patient advocacy groups and other neuromuscular disease stakeholders.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association is the world's leading nonprofit health agency dedicated to saving and improving the lives of people with muscle disease, including muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neuromuscular diseases. It does so by funding worldwide research to find treatments and cures; by providing comprehensive health care services and support to MDA families nationwide; and by rallying communities to fight back through advocacy, fundraising and local engagement.