Laura Feltri
Dr. M. Laura Feltri, CMTA STAR Scientific Advisory Board Member

It is with the heaviest of hearts that the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association (CMTA) mourns the loss of our friend and Strategy to Accelerate Research (STAR) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) Member, Dr. M. Laura Feltri. Dr. Feltri passed away December 25, 2023, at home in her native Milan, Italy, surrounded by family and friends, after a long battle with cancer. She was just 60 years old.

M. Laura Feltri, M.D., was a highly regarded Professor of Biochemistry and Neurology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the State University of New York in Buffalo, NY, where she also served as director of the university’s Institute for Myelin and Glia Exploration.

Dr. Feltri was an original member of the CMTA’s SAB and helped shape the direction of our research. She and her husband, Lawrence Wrabetz, M.D., who is himself a respected Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) researcher at the same university as Dr. Feltri, often spoke at CMTA Buffalo Branch community meetings, and were always available to share knowledge, to spread awareness, and to spend time with the CMT community. She was elected president of the Peripheral Nerve Society in 2021, in recognition of her leadership in this international community.

In a statement, the Peripheral Nerve Society said, “Dr. Feltri was an unwavering supporter of the Peripheral Nerve Society (PNS), serving on the Scientific Program and Education Committees, and the Journal of the Peripheral Nerve Society (JPNS) Editorial Board. She was a PNS Board Member between 2009 and 2013 and President-Elect/President between 2021 and 2023. As a mentor and colleague, she trained and inspired many of us. She was determined and passionate in both life and science, as well as calm and generous, always lending a helping hand or simply a smile. Laura Feltri will be deeply missed.”

Dr. Feltri was a dedicated supporter of our mission to support the development of new treatments for CMT, to improve the quality of life for people with CMT, and, ultimately, to find a cure. “Laura consistently had wonderful things to say and possessed the kindest soul, and she was always standing proudly by the CMTA and how we serve our community,” said Jeana Sweeney, CMTA Chief Engagement and Gift Officer, who was also a longtime friend of Dr. Feltri’s. “Her presence at the STAR Advisory Board meetings will be deeply missed, but her legacy of compassion will continue to inspire us.”

“There are enough wonderful things to say about Laura Feltri that stating them all would fill a book,” says Michael Shy, M.D. “She was a warm caring friend who would go out of her way to do anything to help a friend or colleague. She always cared about science-ego and never let it get in the way. Finding the truth was what counted.”

Dr. Feltri built two great Myelin programs: the first in Milan, Italy and the second in Buffalo, NY. Following her training in Philadelphia, Laura and her husband returned to Milan where they developed and ran the internationally recognized glial biology group at San Raffaele Hospital. During this time, Dr. Feltri trained many of the investigators who are today active CMT scientists. “Despite her dislike of the cold,” says Dr. Shy, “Laura and Larry then moved to Buffalo where they again built an institute for myelin and glia exploration from scratch.”

Dr. Feltri continued to raise her family while running the Buffalo myelin and glia group and became the world expert in what is known as the extracellular matrix that surrounds and helps regulate myelination. Dr. Feltri was a pioneer in developing genetic mouse models of multiple causes of CMT and shared the animals widely. Dr. Shy adds, “Laura took an existing system of co-cultures of Schwann cells and neurons and modified it so that these co-cultures became great models to evaluate CMT in a dish.”

Over the course of her career, Dr. Feltri published over 140 peer-reviewed research papers, advancing the understanding of CMT, and moving us closer to achieving the CMTA’s vision of a world without CMT. She was highly collaborative and worked with a wide variety of researchers. She also trained a number of scientists who continue to work in the CMT field.

“I have known Dr. Laura Feltri since she was a post-doctoral fellow at Penn in 1990,” says Steven S. Scherer, M.D., Ph.D. “It was a special time in our lives, and at the very beginning of the discovery of the genetic causes of CMT. Laura, Larry Wrabetz, Michael Shy, John Kamholz, Kurt Fischbeck, and I were all drawn to study CMT, which we realized was an important and solvable problem. Our focus on CMT altered our careers.” Dr. Scherer continues, “Laura and I worked closely on two projects, and I admired her in every way. Even though we all went our separate ways within a few years, we continued to collaborate and remained friends ever since. We met regularly at various meetings, catching up on each other lives, and I was fortunate to have visited Laura and Larry (who were now married) in Milan, Italy, and in Buffalo, NY.”

What would be Dr. Feltri’s final piece of research is a CMTA-funded project to develop a treatment for both CMT1A and CMT1B. Through this project, Dr. Feltri created a promising approach to potentially treat these forms of CMT with a combination of two drugs, one of which the US-FDA has previously approved and is in wide use.

Building on Dr. Feltri’s breakthroughs and continuing her important work, her colleagues, led by Jordan VerPlank, Ph.D., are planning research to find the optimal treatment strategy in a mouse model of CMT1A, planning forward, ultimately to human trials.

Dr. Shy, who was a mentor of Dr. Feltri, recalls “Laura was unfailingly warm and friendly, though there were a few things one knew not to do. First, it was to invite trouble by saying anything bad about Bruce Springsteen, whom she idolized, having traveled on at least one occasion to the Stone Pony in New Jersey in the hope that he would show up and play.” Dr. Shy continues, “I also learned quickly that she was not a fan of American soft drinks and fast food. I offered her grape soda, root beer, and a cheesesteak when she first arrived in Philadelphia as a postdoc. It then took me an hour to talk her out of getting on the next plane home if this is how American’s eat. Laura Feltri was one of the truly great people I have met in my life and things won’t feel the same without her as part of it. I’m sure I’m not alone in these sentiments.”

“I have many stories, but let me just say that Laura and Larry were full partners, in their lab and in their life together,” says Dr. Scherer. “They were inseparable and published many important papers. They raised their family and fostered a new generation of neuroscientists. Laura made a huge impact that will be with us forever. She was my close colleague and I love her dearly.”

The loss of Dr. Feltri is tragic, and she will be deeply missed by all. Her legacy lives on through her work and through the countless lives she touched as a scientist, as a CMT research community member, as a wife, and as a mother. Dr. Feltri’s contributions to CMT are immeasurable. The CMTA is honored to have known Dr. Feltri and to call her a friend. Rest well, Dr. Feltri, rest well.

With contributions from CMTA Chief Engagement and Gift Officer, Jeana Sweeney, CMTA Scientific Advisory Board Chair, John Svaren, Ph.D., CMTA Clinical Expert Board Chair Michael Shy, M.D., CMTA Scientific Advisory Board & Clinical Expert Board member, Steven S. Scherer, M.D., Ph.D., and the Peripheral Nerve Society.

Published: February 20, 2024