Mayfield Foundation Awards Inaugural $50,000 'Spark Grant' for Scientific Research in ALS

CINCINNATI -- The Mayfield Education & Research Foundation announces the first "Spark Grant," a new donor-driven program that provides seed funding for promising researchers.

The $50,000 "Starr Family Spark Grant in ALS Research" has been awarded to John MacLennan, PhD, at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Dr. MacLennan is an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology.

Dr. MacLennan's proposal, "Novel ALS Treatments Targeting Muscle Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor Signaling," was approved for funding by the board of the Mayfield Education and Research Foundation.

Recent discoveries in Dr. MacLennan's laboratory suggest that:
1) muscle ciliary neurotrophic factor receptor α (CNTFRα) naturally inhibits ALS and 2) increasing muscle CNTFRα could serve as a broadly effective ALS treatment without side effects. These discoveries also suggest that the treatment could start late in the disease process, as is required in humans given ALS's late diagnosis. Moreover, development of the treatment for clinical use will not depend on the very difficult identification of the potentially many different causes of ALS.

Dr. MacLennan's laboratory will use the grant funds to optimize this potential treatment by testing several "next generation" adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors that increase expression of muscle CNTFRα. They will be tested in the most widely used ALS model mice that contain a human ALS-causing mutation and get an ALS-like disease.

ALS Spark Grant

Doug and Ann Marie Starr Bailey (left) and Cindy Starr (right), with ALS SPARK Grant recipient Dr. John MacLennan at the Mayfield Foundation Art & Science of Healing event.

Dr. MacLennan's research has a national scope, with collaborators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the pharmaceutical industry.

The funds for this grant from the Mayfield Education and Research Foundation were made possible through the generosity of Cindy Starr in honor of her husband, Bill, who succumbed to ALS in 2015. Cindy, along with family and friends, have kept Bill's memory alive through a financial commitment to ALS research.

It is the hope of the Mayfield Education and Research Foundation that this money is utilized to spark a fire of new discovery and outcomes and that researchers may leverage this money for more funding from national sources.

The Mayfield Education and Research Foundation's Spark Grant program funds initiatives that are of greatest interest to a donor and provides seed funding to a researcher from an academic institution. The worthy proposal will be awarded with the expectation that the researcher and his or her team will leverage the award in applying for a larger million-dollar grant to advance their research. A named Spark Grant is vetted by the Mayfield board to ensure the highest quality proposal and reasonable likelihood for success. The entire gift will go to the researcher so that donors may see their investment in action.

For more information about creating a Spark Grants contact Deb Livingston at

For immediate release:
January 24, 2017

Deborah Livingston
Development Director
Mayfield Education & Research Foundation

Phone: 513-569-5277