Monica and David Gow, co-founders of Wake Up Narcolepsy, award a grant to a narcolepsy researcher.

WUN Provides More than $1 Million in Narcolepsy Research Grants with Latest Round of Awards

Wake Up for Narcolepsy (WUN), a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing narcolepsy awareness, education, and research towards improved treatments and a cure for the sleep disorder that impacts hundreds of thousands, announced it has awarded $120,000 in grants for innovative narcolepsy research. This latest round of grants surpasses $1 million awarded by WUN since it was founded in 2008.

“Since its inception, Wake Up Narcolepsy has collaborated with several prominent medical researchers who have worked tirelessly in the pursuit of a greater understanding of narcolepsy,” said Monica Gow, executive director. “These grants will empower researchers at prestigious institutions such as Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, Stanford University, and others to continue their groundbreaking research to enhance treatments and discover a cure for narcolepsy. Wake Up Narcolepsy offers its sincere gratitude to our generous benefactors who make these grants possible and the medical professionals and their research staff for the hope they provide to those with this sleep disorder. We are proud to have raised and awarded more than $1 million in such a short period to advance medical research on narcolepsy.”

The funding was made available through the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts, such as its Boston Marathon Fundraiser, annual giving campaigns, golf outing hosted by Nicole Jeray of the LPGA, and a Seattle-based giving campaign. The latter is an event hosted annually by WUN Board Member Anne Samarawickrama and her husband, Prasanna.

2021 Wake Up Narcolepsy Grant Recipients

Dr. Thomas Scammell, Harvard Medical School & Beth Israel Hospital: Unrestricted $40,000 Grant
A former WUN grant recipient, Dr. Scammell’s research group has helped define which brain circuits give rise to cataplexy, episodes of muscle weakness triggered by intense, generally positive emotions, and sleepiness using mouse models of narcolepsy. Dr. Scammell’s group has concluded that the amygdala, a brain region where “emotion meets motion,” is a crucial brain region for cataplexy. The amygdala helps produce emotional reflexes such as freezing with fear or smiling at a friend. It is now clear that in mice with narcolepsy, positive emotions (in response to a stimulus such as chocolate) are relayed by the amygdala to the brainstem, resulting in episodes of muscle weakness.

This $40,000 grant will empower Dr. Scammell and his research group to define which amygdala neurons mediate cataplexy. They anticipate this will enable the development of pharmaceuticals that target only this brain circuit without causing side effects. A better understanding of these brain mechanisms will allow researchers and doctors to develop new methods to improve sleepiness, cataplexy, and other symptoms of narcolepsy.

Dr. Kiran Maski, MPH, Boston Children’s Hospital: Restricted $20,000 Grant
The reliability of standard diagnostic testing (polysomnogram and multiple sleep latency testing) is poor making accurate diagnoses a challenge for people with narcolepsy and idiopathic hypersomnia. The goal of the multi-site study, Diagnostic Sleep Biomarkers and CNS Disorders of Hypersomnolence,  is to identify sleep and wake neurophysiological biomarkers that are unique to narcolepsy subtypes and idiopathic hypersomnia that can be used for diagnostic criteria. Such knowledge could also be fundamental for targeted drug therapy development for these conditions.

Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, Stanford University: Unrestricted $40,000 Grant
Dr. Emmanuel Mignot and his research team recently completed a World Wide Genome Wide Association study that uncovered why narcolepsy affects some individuals but not others. The study was conducted in regular type 1 narcolepsy patients and patients who have developed narcolepsy following vaccination with the anti-H1N1 swine flu vaccine, Pandemrix.

Dr. Ariel Neikrug at University of California, Irvine: Restricted $15,000 Grant
This grant will support a study exploring how the behavioral pattern of day-to-day life impacts functioning narcolepsy patients. Behavioral activity rhythms (BAR) manifest the circadian rhythm in movement/activity and behavioral patterns derived from longitudinal accelerometry.

Dr. Indra Narang, SickKids Foundation: $5,000 Grant
Dr. Narang commenced extensive studies that qualitatively evaluate symptoms of narcolepsy in children in Toronto, Canada. An emerging leader in this field, the grant will provide funding for Dr. Narang to further her investigational research of the correlation between narcolepsy and depression.