Hope Through Research

At MDA, we take a big picture perspective across the full spectrum of neuromuscular diseases to uncover scientific and medical breakthroughs that accelerate treatments and cures. The power in our research approach is that we can often apply learnings from one disease to progress in others to bring urgently-needed answers to our families.

Grant Types

Basic Research 

Much of the research MDA supports is what is termed “basic” research: research investigating the fundamental biological processes of nerves, muscles and what goes awry to cause disease. Much of this research is not aimed at one specific disease but can apply to many neuromuscular diseases. Projects at this stage, for example, may initially seek answers about a muscular dystrophy, but ultimately lead to a therapy for ALS. This is how MDA’s broad coverage of diseases can be so powerful. Basic research that results in the identification of a therapeutic target also may be called "discovery research."

MDA funds basic research primarily through research grants, which are three-year projects designed to answer specific questions. These may be held either by academic researchers or by companies doing the earliest stages of drug discovery. Development grants are training grants for senior postdoctoral researchers seeking to establish themselves as premier neuromuscular researchers. Many research grants go to researchers who started out with development grants, and past development grantees have gone on to become leaders in the neuromuscular research community.

  • Research Grants

    Research grants comprise the majority of MDA’s research funding awards each year. They are awarded to established investigators to accelerate progress against muscle disease and are typically in the range of $80,000 to $100.000 per year total costs for one to three years.

    To be eligible to apply for an MDA research grant, applicants must: 

    1. Hold a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) or equivalent degree (i.e. D.O.).
    2. Be a professional or faculty member (professor, associate professor or assistant professor) at an appropriate educational, medical or research institution.
    3. Be qualified to conduct and mentor a program of original research within his or her own laboratory.
    4. Assume both administrative and financial responsibility for the grant.
    5. Have access to institutional resources necessary to conduct the proposed research project.

    Proposals from applicants outside the United States will be considered for projects of highest priority to MDA and when, in addition to the applicant's having met the requirements noted above, the applicant's country of residence may not have adequate sources of financial support for biomedical research. 

  • Development Grants

    MDA awards development grants to young researchers on the brink of becoming independent investigators. They are intended as seed money to help launch the scientific programs of promising new neuromuscular disease researchers. Development grants are typically for $60,000 per year for one to three years. As their science advances, many recipients of development grants apply for and receive research support through MDA’s research grant program. Many have also become members of MDA’s Medical and Scientific Committees.

    MDA will consider an application for a research development grant from a candidate who may be a member of a research team in the laboratory of an independent investigator (principal investigator) under whose guidance the applicant will be given flexibility to conduct a neuromuscular disease research project.

    To be eligible for a development grant, applicants must:

    1. Hold a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) or equivalent degree (i.e. D.O.);
    2. Be a member of a research team at an appropriate institution;
    3. Be qualified to conduct a program of original research under the supervision of an Independent Investigator;
    4. Have an acceptable research plan for a specific disease in MDA's program;
    5. Have access to institutional resources necessary to conduct the proposed research project;
    6. Have a minimum of eighteen (18) months of post-degree research laboratory training at the time of application;
    7. Be no more than 60 months from receiving their most recent advanced degree (e.g. PhD, MD or equivalent); and in the case of M.D., Ph.D. applicants on a variable career path, you will need to consult with MDA to discuss your eligibility.
    8. Not have been funded under the Development Grant program in the past. 

    Proposals from applicants outside the United States will be considered for projects of highest priority to MDA and when, in addition to the applicant's having met the requirements noted above, the applicant's country of residence may not have adequate sources of financial support for biomedical research.

Translational Research

MDA’s translational research program represents an innovative way to fund research that’s designed to move new drug targets into the clinic as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

The program was developed in response to the increasing number of promising therapeutic avenues for neuromuscular diseases that have developed from MDA's basic research program. The program focuses on key areas MDA has identified as critical weaknesses in the drug development process for rare diseases.

Key areas include:

  • Supporting early-stage (preclinical and early clinical studies) high-risk studies at companies that might otherwise not enter the rare disease arena, effectively making potential therapeutics more attractive to investors.
  • Supporting the preclinical work necessary to file an investigational new drug application (IND), such as manufacturing, scale-up and toxicology studies.
  • Helping academic investigators complete critical preclinical research to determine if potential therapeutics developed in academia can be developed as drugs, and to enhance the value of such therapeutics to drug development companies.
  • Developing and supporting the infrastructure needed by the community to complete preclinical research and clinical trials.
  • Bridge to Industry Grant

    Bridge to Industry (B2I) Grants are awarded to young researchers on the brink of becoming independent investigators, and are intended as seed money to help launch the scientific programs of promising new neuromuscular disease researchers with an interest in drug development. These grants are for $60,000 per year for one to three years, and the program must involve both academia and industry and have a drug development focus.
    MDA will consider an application from a candidate who may be a member of a research team in the laboratory of an independent investigator (principal investigator) under whose guidance the applicant will be given flexibility to conduct a neuromuscular disease research project. Applicants must have a mentor both at a university and one at a drug development company, with work performed at both institutions. 

Clinical Research 

Clinical research includes any research that involves human beings.  This includes clinical trials, where a new drug or other form of intervention is tested in healthy people (safety trials) or in patients (to see if the intervention alleviates symptoms), but also clinical studies where researchers are studying the disease itself.  A clinical study may allow researchers to determine what “normal” is for a disease, so that it is possible to determine if a new therapy is changing the course of the disease, or may study new measures of how the disease progresses. 

Clinical studies and trials must all be conducted in such a way as to minimize risk to the subjects – they are all approved by Institutional Review Boards, which determine whether or not a study is being conducted ethically.  New therapeutic interventions must also be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  MDA only awards the following grants when these approvals are on file.

MDA funds clinical studies and trials projects through the highly competitive Clinical Research Grants and through MDA Venture Philanthropy.  Due to the urgency and complexity of such studies, these are reviewed on a rolling basis by ad hoc reviewers, and are closely followed to ensure that they are performed to a high standard.

MDA trains young physicians in clinical research through Clinical Research Training Grants.

  • Clinical Research Network Grants

    MDA supports three clinical research networks, one for ALS, DMD and myotonic dystrophy. Each consists of five MDA clinics with special expertise in clinical research. The clinics were chosen through a competitive process. The clinics work together on projects selected by the network, such as clinical trials, natural history studies and so on. The PIs of the networks meet regularly by phone and in-person to discuss ongoing and novel programs. 

  • Clinical Research Grants

    Clinical Research Grants are designed to support both clinical trials of compounds already on the market and clinical studies performed at academic medical centers.  Phase I and Phase IIa trials of novel therapeutics should be submitted as MDA Venture Philanthropy projects.  All trials and studies must be FDA approved (if appropriate), and approved through an Institutional Review Board.  MDA will only support such studies if they are performed to the highest ethical standards, and if the protocol is designed so as to gather the maximum amount of data. 

  • Clinical Research Training Grant

    The Clinical Research Training Grant (CRTG) is designed to provide promising young clinicians with the research training opportunities needed to become productive clinical investigators in neuromuscular disease research. This training opportunity is designed to be compatible with the requirements of a traditional clinical fellowship in neuromuscular disease and any forthcoming requirements for certification in neuromuscular disease. Trainees will be expected to design their own educational plans and to participate, under the supervision of a mentor, in the development and/or coordination of a clinical research project.

    At minimum, trainees should gain experience in the basic epidemiological methods of clinical research, ethical and legal issues, and the principles involved in monitoring patient-oriented research, including regulatory requirements and quality assurance. Recipients also are encouraged to acquire knowledge of and exposure to research technologies, large dataset management, bioinformatics and other research tools, as well as to develop the communication and collaboration skills necessary for successful investigator development.

Infrastructure Grant 

The Infrastructure Grant is designed to support the development of tools, techniques and services of need to the neuromuscular research community. This grant does not have an open application process; rather, when MDA identifies a community need, applications will be requested. The main review criterion for this grant is need for the infrastructure to further research.

Members of the research community are welcome to suggest infrastructure deemed necessary to the community, which might be addressed by such a grant.

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