Degenerating Brains

“One in six of over-80 year olds will get a neurodegenerative disease. We’ve got to find ways to slow, stop or reverse these conditions” was the distinctly political message at the opening of this public symposia on “Degenerating Brains: new research into Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease”, run jointly by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council. The evening began with the world premiere of a short film explaining the importance of continuing to pursue research into these conditions (coming soon to an internet near you.. !).

The lectures started by Prof John Hardy’s excellent overview of genetics, illustrated by advances in Alzheimer’s Disease. “It’s the golden age for being a geneticist” he commented. I particularly enjoyed his explanation of the much quoted research paper by Manolio et al 2009 (Its Figure 1 in this OPEN ACCESS (yeah!) paper –if you really want to look at it!). “There are now recipes for finding causes of diseases that fall anywhere on this graph” Prof Hardy explained. Whether they are rare genetic mistakes that have a big impact (make a big contribution) on whether someone develops a condition) or more common genetic mistakes that have a smaller overall contribution. His closing comment “Geneticists are finding the jigsaw pieces to give to the cell biologist and neuropathologists to put together”, was a theme that the next speaker, Prof Chris Shaw, continued.

Prof Shaw, MND Association grantee, eminent scientist and clinician based at King’s College London, began his talk by laying down a challenge to the younger generation of scientists in the audience “I’m banking on you to find the answers to my degenerating brain”. He went on to explain how the discovery of genetic mistakes in SOD1, TDP-43 and FUS has led us to a greater understanding of the biological pathways involved in motor neurone degeneration in MND. Prof Shaw’s research has led him to develop close relationships with families affected by the rare, inherited form of MND and he ended his talk with a thank you to them for their help.

The concluding presentation was given by Prof David Rubenstein from Cambridge University, describing how advances in understanding Huntingdon’s disease research will act as a model for driving advances in other neurodegenerative diseases.
The consortia of funded researchers have got together to create a blog site for posts about Alzheimer’s Disease, Motor Neurone Disease or Parkinson’s Disease, why not add this link to your favourites too (and if you’re a twitter fan, you can follow them @dneurons ) http://degeneratingneurons.wordpress.com/.

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