Community Impact



The UMDF is committed to funding the best science, no matter where it is in the world.
With our mission to fund the best science in the world, the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation awarded two new research grants totaling $300,000 to two projects that will impact the diagnosis, treatment and clinical care of mitochondrial disease patients. The projects and their prize winners were awarded at the UMDF’s Mitochondrial Medicine 2019 Symposium in Alexandria, VA, in June.

UMDF leadership, in close collaboration with its Scientific and Medical Advisory Board (SMAB), created two new award categories for application by the scientific community. The first is the Experienced Investigator Prize to support established, more-senior principal investigators in taking their research in a new and novel direction. Alternatively, the Early Stage Investigator Prize was created to aid and inspire the next generation of scientists who dedicate their work to mitochondrial disease research. Both of the 2019 prize winners submitted projects that study and advance science on potential treatments and therapies for mitochondrial diseases.

Matthew Whiteman, PhD
Professor of Experimental Therapeutics
University of Exeter, United Kingdom

2019 Experienced Principal Investigator Prize – $200,000

Dr. Whiteman was awarded the UMDF’s 2019 Experienced Principal Investigator Prize for his research project entitled, “Can novel mitochondria-targeted hydrogen sulfide delivery molecules restore cellular bioenergetics in primary mitochondrial disease.” Dr. Whiteman extended his work over the past five years in other disease areas to primary mitochondrial disease using a well-established worm model of mitochondrial disease. This is a new approach in studying mitochondrial health and may lead to novel therapeutic opportunities to normalize, restore and rescue loss of mitochondrial function and cellular energy.

Zarazuela Zolkipli Cunningham, MBChB, MRCP
Division of Human Genetics, Mitochondrial Medicine Frontier Program
Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

2019 Early Stage Principal Investigator Prize – $100,000

Dr. Cunningham’s award winning project is entitled, “Defining the Natural History of Mitochondrial Myopathy.” Her project focuses on further exploring how the symptoms of individuals with skeletal muscle issues change over time and how best to measure those changes. Dr. Cunningham’s research will capture the severity of patient symptoms, disease progression and treatment response with the ultimate goal of identifying clinically-meaningful interventions.

The UMDF Research Grant Program was established in 1996 at a time when no other organization existed to fund mitochondrial disease research. Today, UMDF is the largest, non-governmental funder of basic and translational research designed to bring the best science from the bench to bedside. All submitted research projects are peer reviewed by the top global scientific and medical experts in the mitochondrial research field. In conjunction with the UMDF Scientific and Medical Advisory Board and select external experts, awards are made. It is through the work of UMDF’s generous donors and supporters, who organize and donate to UMDF through our Energy for Life Walkathons, annual appeals and other fundraisers that make funding vital research projects possible.



UMDF Launches accelerators

Innovation, speed and agility are key to finding effective treatments for mitochondrial disease, which is why UMDF launched the accelerators program in January 2019.

Designed with engaged philanthropy in mind, the accelerators program brings together rising stars in mitochondrial disease research and our generous donor community. The foundation of the program is supported by accelerators members who give $500 or more annually to UMDF. Through this unique program, our members have a voice in funding promising mitochondrial disease research by casting their vote for the annual accelerators Prize.

The accelerators program invites postdoctoral researchers from around the world to submit projects for the $50,000 accelerators Prize. Through our peer review process, the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board of the UMDF selects three to five finalists, all judged to be fundable based on scientific merit. The finalists then present a five minute pitch of their project during our annual livestream event, The Big Pitch. During the event, accelerators program members have the opportunity to cast their vote on the project they feel most passionate about.

accelerators is a win-win for the mitochondrial disease community. A scientifically meritorious project is funded, and our donors who care deeply about supporting the mission of UMDF lend their voice to the final selection process.

Our 2019 accelerators prize winner was Dr. Arwen Gao of Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland. Dr. Gao’s project identified novel compounds that increase the amount of mitochondria and/or activate the identified pathway in lab-based cell models. The compounds that work best in the cell models will be subsequently tested in animal models of mitochondrial disease. Future work with top compound candidates have the potential to pave the way towards the development of novel drugs targeting rare mitochondrial diseases.

As we prepared to announce that Dr. Gao was selected as the inaugural accelerators prize winner at our Evening of Energy event, two generous donor families stepped up to underwrite the runners up. Inspired by these young scientists and their projects presented during the Big Pitch, Sherri and Alan Breslow, through the Logan Sloane Aronson Research Fund in Honor of Sydney Breslow, and Dan Wright, through the Wright Family Foundation, committed to providing each runner up with a $50,000 research award. Dr. Gao’s prize was increased to $75,000.

With generous support from accelerators, UMDF continues our mission promise of accelerating the work of scientists who are working to move fast toward a cure.