Over 100 talks were given at this month’s International Symposium on ALS/MND in Dublin. There were also over 450 posters of research being presented too. Time in the conference programme was allocated on Wednesday and Thursday evening (day 1 and day 2 of the 3 day conference) to visit the posters – you might think that scheduled at the end of the day they would be less well attended – but not a bit of it! It was an extremely loud and buzzy part of the conference.
As well as all the networking, debate and new information being shared, the International Symposium on ALS/MND is also a time to celebrate achievements by the giving of awards. The Biomedical and Clinical poster prizes are an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the excellent research and clinical practice being conducted by those early in their career.
Now in its fourth year we hope that the poster prizes will help give the winners career a boost, and give them the encouragement and motivation to continue in MND/ALS research. This year the Panel selected an international group of winners: Dr Albert Lee from Australia and Elsa Tremblay from Canada were jointly awarded the Biomedical poster prize and Ruben van Eijk from The Netherlands won the Clinical poster prize. Each winner received a certificate and a glass engraved paperweight.
The prize winning research ranged from understanding the consequences of a newly discovered gene mutation linked to MND, to why the junction between nerves and muscles is one of the earliest signs of motor neurone damage, to a new statistical analysis to make clinical trials quicker and more efficient. Below I’ve explained more about the research that the winners presented. Continue reading →
What causes MND is the question that so many of us want to know. For the majority of people with MND we know that it is caused by a combination of many environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors, that gradually tip the balance towards someone developing MND. In the very first talk of the 2016 International Symposium on ALS/MND Joel Vermeulen from The Institute of Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University in The Netherlands gave us an update on research underway to understand the environmental and lifestyle contributions to why people develop MND. Continue reading →
The idea that drugs licensed for one disease may have some use in another completely different disease is not new, but it has gained much more attention in recent years. Researchers are developing a new understanding of disease processes, leading to new ‘drug repurposing’ opportunities, with the additional potential to reduce the time and cost of drug development.
Significant advances in genetics and molecular biology in recent years have greatly increased our understanding of the pivotal, carefully balanced cellular processes that usually keep motor neurons healthy but, when disrupted, can cause a cascade of degeneration leading ultimately to their death. Continue reading →
Two sets of MND genetic results were published yesterday. One of these results was about the importance of a new gene called NEK1. The second highlighted the role of gene C21orf2 in MND – we wrote an article about this yesterday. Both sets of results were published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.
What are the results and what do they tell us?
Researchers found that variations in the NEK1 gene contribute to why people develop the rare, inherited form of MND. Variations in the NEK1 gene were also found to be one of the many factors that tip the balance towards why people with no family history develop MND.
NEK1 has many jobs within motor neurones including helping keeping their shape and keeping the transport system open. Future research will tell us how we can use this new finding to target drugs to stop MND. Continue reading →
Today some exciting news about the genetics of MND was published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics. The results come in two research papers published in the same issue of the journal.
This blog post discusses the results of the first of these papers for which King’s College London based Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi was one of the leading researchers. A post on the second paper will follow later.
Here we’ve given an overview of what the researchers have found, what it means for people with MND and how the analysis was conducted. You can read a more detailed explanation of the research results from the King’s press release. Continue reading →
Researchers from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield have uncovered a new function of the C9orf72 protein. A paper on their work has recently been published in the EMBO Journal.
A change or mutation to the C9orf72 gene is linked to about 40% of cases of inherited MND. We also know that changes to this gene also occur in a type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD). However, the reasons behind this link have so far been unclear.
One of the main research routes towards explaining the link between the C9orf72 gene and MND is to work out the normal function of this gene. By studying the protein the gene produces, researchers can see how alterations to this protein and the processes it is involved with result in nerve cell damage in MND. Continue reading →
Dr Pietro Fratta completed his first MRC-MND Association Clinical Research Training Fellowship in 2014. Last year he was awarded a new £1.16 million Clinician Scientist Fellowship to continue his research at University College London, studying the earliest physical changes that affect motor neurons in MND (our reference 946-795). Our contribution to this four year research fellowship is £280,000.
Dr Pietro Fratta, University College London
As his first Fellowship progressed, Dr Fratta became more interested in the field of RNA biology, where he is rapidly establishing himself as an expert. His latest project aims to see whether RNA plays a pivotal role in the earliest signs of cellular damage that occur in MND.
RNA is the cell’s copy of our genetic material known as DNA; Dr Fratta is hoping to establish if the transport of RNA molecules along the nerve fibres is impaired and if so, whether there are particular versions of RNA that are particularly important for motor neurone health and survival.
Several lab studies have shown that the process of transporting things up and down the motor neurones is impaired long before the physical signs of damage are seen. His research will seek to find out what RNA molecules are present in both the cell body of the motor neuron and the nerve fibres. Continue reading →
Dr Russell McLaughlin from Trinity College Dublin is one of our Junior Non-Clinical Fellows.
Our Non-Clinical Fellowships were awarded for the first time last year. They aim to retain and develop early and mid-career MND researchers conducting biomedical research. These fellowships are funded for up to four years. We are currently funding two junior and two senior fellowships.
In this three-year research fellowship, which began in January, Dr McLaughlin is studying the more subtle genetic causes of MND (our reference: 957-799).
Why is genetic research important in MND?
We know that for approximately 5-10% of people living with MND, the cause of the disease is primarily due to a mistake within the genes. We also know that very subtle genetic factors, together with environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to why the majority of people develop the disease.
It is likely that these subtle genes are quite rare, and that is why we have not found them so far. As part of his research, Dr McLaughlin is hoping to identify the rarer gene variants that may be linked to MND. Continue reading →
Researchers can create human motor neurones exhibiting signs of MND in the lab by taking skin cells from a person living with MND and reprogramming them into motor neurones. This is called induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology and gives an ‘in a dish’ human model of MND. iPSCs are being used by several of the researchers we fund.
Dr Gareth Miles
Dr Gareth Miles from the University of St Andrews, together with former PhD student Anna-Claire Devlin, has previously found that these ‘in a dish’ motor neurones lose their ability to produce an electrical nerve impulse. MND-affected motor neurones at first become overactive, and then subsequently lose their ability to produce the impulses needed to make muscles contract.
In his new project Dr Miles and PhD student Amit Chouhan, alongside Prof Siddharthan Chandran (University of Edinburgh), plans to use iPSCs to investigate why these electrical properties in nerve cells change in MND (our reference: 878-792).
The researchers will look at proteins called ‘ion channels’ that regulate the flow of electrical messages (called an action potential) which travel along the nerve cell towards the muscle. Continue reading →