Dr. Kyle Denton, Ph.D., has been interested in neurodegenerative diseases for much of his life. He’s studied them at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate levels, and dedicated his professional career to understanding them – and searching for treatments to help those who are living with them. But the roots of his interest started much earlier, when he was a child.
“When I was younger, my sister started to lose sensation in her hands and feet,” he says. “By the time she was in sixth grade it got progressively worse and was spreading from her toes and fingers up through her hands and feet. It eventually reached her elbows and knees. They diagnosed her with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, which is a sensory neuron degeneration disease. That got me interested in neurodegeneration and neurobiology.”
Dr. Denton’s sister eventually made a full recovery. However, her condition set him off on a path that would eventually lead him to the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), where earlier this year he became the newest member of the leadership team as the Director of Cell Biology. Prior to this role, he worked as a member of the translational research team, and was instrumental in establishing ALS TDI’s leading induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) program.
Before coming to ALS TDI, Dr. Denton earned a BA in biochemistry and molecular biology with a minor in chemistry at Clark University, along with a MS in biochemistry and molecular biology a year later at the same school through a fifth-year program. It was at Clark that he first became interested in working with stem cells.
“It was a few years after the Yamanaka paper came out, where they identified the four transcription factors that you can overexpress to generate induced pluripotent stem cells,” he remembers.” “In that class, they spent a lot of time going through the original paper. I just found it really cool that you could take an adult cell and turn it back into a stem cell and then use that to generate any cell in the body.”
After college, he went on to earn his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Connecticut and worked as a postdoc studying hereditary spastic paraplegias, another form of motor neuron disease related to ALS. He came to ALS TDI in 2016, excited to find a place where he could work in collaboration with others who shared his passion for finding treatments for neurodegenerative disease – in addition to really get to know the community he was working to help.
“My favorite thing about ALS TDI is the people that work here and getting to collaborate with the other groups,” he says. “When we want to try to test something in animals, we can go to Theo. And if we want to work on some other cell types, we can talk to other people like Anna and Alan for the cell types they work with. And then there’s the connection with community. You're reminded that what you're doing has value. You’re not just studying something in science as a job, you're trying to help people if you can. It motivates you.”
Today, as the Director of Cell Biology at ALS TDI, Dr. Denton utilizes his expertise in stem cell biology to lead a team focused on working with iPSCs derived from participants in our Precision Medicine Program. These cell lines – taken from people living with ALS – can be used for experiments to better understand the disease as well as testing potential drugs and therapies.
Because drug-like compounds can be tested so rapidly and efficiently in these kinds of cells, Dr. Denton’s group often serves as the first step in the process as a drug moves through our lab. As a new leader, it’s his greatest hope that someday soon a drug could move from his group, through animal testing, and, eventually, into clinical trials.
“Our group is the initial filter,” he says. “We're testing large numbers of compounds to try to weed out the ones that are not effective and pass the ones that perform better to the in vivo side, so it'll be pretty exciting when something from our work actually makes it to people living with ALS. “