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Vitiello Lab Prepares to Study Rare Disease Thanks to Local Man's Fundraising Efforts

Jan 03, 2018 09:59AM ● By Digital Media Director

Sanford researcher Peter Vitiello is readying his lab for a new research study. The study is unique for Vitiello in both its focus and its funding source. Vitiello, who has been studying the role of antioxidant enzymes in disease at Sanford for the last eight years, may soon be the recipient of $75,000 in private funds that will take his focus in a new direction.

“As a scientist, I try to be as logical as possible,” says Vitiello. “But when something like this happens, it really touches the emotional side.”

In October, Vitiello was contacted by a Sioux Falls attorney whose 16-year-old daughter has Friedreich’s Ataxia, a protein deficiency that destroys cells in the nervous system and lungs. Dan Brendtro wanted to raise money to fund an FA research study at Sanford. As fortune would have it, although FA has not been a primarily focus for Vitiello, he had been briefly involved in a collaboration with a Mayo clinic FA researcher in 2012.

“Only a handful of folks even knew that I was involved in that project,” says Vitiello. “But the timing was just right and the right people heard about it.”

After talking with the Brentros, Vitiello agreed to revive that shelved research study and take it to the next level in his own lab at Sanford.

“The fact that we have an emphasis on rare disease research and an infrastructure in place that could help me get this project going was critical,” says Vitiello.

In fact, FA registrants make up one of the largest components of Sanford’s CoRDS rare disease database, the only free national rare disease registry not affiliated with any single illness. FA has also garnered national attention in this year; a Philadelphia lab is conducting a 5-year natural history study thanks to a $2 million NIH grant.

“I have optimism that the science is going to figure this out,” says Brentro.

Provided that the Brentros reach their $75,000 goal, Vitiello will be able to sidestep the lengthy grant application process and could potentially produce the first findings within months.

“It has taken me years to get certain projects funded in my lab,” says Vitiello. “To interact with someone who wants to do this at this level and it able to fast-track the funding is unprecedented for me.”

Last month, the Brentro’s crowdfunding campaign (TheFinishLine.org) got some additional attention when the local news media picked up on the story. As of this writing, the campaign is more than halfway to its goal and Vitiello continues to prepare his lab for the anticipated start of the study this month.