New genetic discoveries tell us more about what causes MND – Part 2

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

Working together towards a world free from MND

During MND Awareness Month we are highlighting some of the research the MND Association funds in our ‘Project a Day’ series. Today, on global ALS/MND awareness day, we wanted to give you a look at the research into motor neurone disease taking place elsewhere.

Thousands of researchers across the globe are working towards a world free from MND. Rather than tell you each of their stories, we have gone to those that fund and facilitate this research, and asked them how their efforts bring us closer to figuring out the causes of MND, and finding treatments for this disease.

“I find huge inspiration in the knowledge that when I finish my work for the day, the MND researchers in Australia are just beginning theirs.” Prof Martin Turner, University of Oxford Continue reading

Collaborating across Europe to find a cure: ENCALS 2016

332 delegates, 135 posters, 41 talks, one goal: to cure ALS

The European Network for the Cure of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ENCALS) was set up to find a cure for ALS/MND by working collaboratively across 35 research centres (universities and hospitals) throughout Europe.

The 14th meeting of ENCALS took place in Milan between 19-21 May and was attended by scientists and doctors from across Europe. Researchers from the USA and Canada were also invited to present at this meeting.

Presentations on day one of this year’s meeting looked at some of the techniques to help identify genetic changes (mutations) linked to MND, such as whole genome sequencing. This is a rapidly growing area of research, thanks to Project MinE  – a global effort to find MND causing genes.

Clinical research was the focus on day two, and discussed the latest imaging and biomarker research. This is an important area as it will offer new ways to help track the progression of MND, and help to speed up diagnosis of this disease. Continue reading

Re-evaluating clinical trial guidelines for MND

To mark International Clinical Trials Day (20 May) we reflect on the ALS Clinical Trials Guidelines workshop that took place in March. The MND Association co-sponsored this successful meeting, held at Airlie House in Virginia USA. Approximately 140 delegates from across the world attended, including 11 MND researchers and doctors from the UK.

Why was this meeting held?

The meeting was a key stage in the process to update (and improve) international guidelines for clinical trials in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, the most common form of MND).

The first international ALS clinical trials guideline workshop took place in 1998. The guidelines were designed to improve the quality of clinical trials in ALS, and provide evidence based recommendations to those designing and carrying out all stages of clinical trials. Continue reading

Pesticides linked to increased risk of developing MND

The results from a study looking at the possible links between exposure to environmental toxins (found in pesticides) and motor neurone disease (MND) was published yesterday (9 May) in the journal JAMA Neurology.

A group of researchers from the University of Michigan, led by Dr Feng-Chiao Su and Dr Eva Feldman, have found that exposure to pesticides is associated with an increased risk of developing MND.

What did the study involve?

156 people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, a type of MND) and 129 healthy ‘control’ participants from Michigan, USA completed questionnaires on their occupation history, gave blood samples, or did both.

The questionnaire asked about their occupations over four windows of time; at any point during their life, in the last 10 years, in the last 10-30 years, and over 30 years ago. From their answers, the researchers worked out the likelihood of each participant’s exposure to pesticides.

The levels of 122 persistent environmental pollutants (including organochlorine pesticides or OCPs) were tested for in blood samples taken from participants.

Persistent environmental pollutants are those with a long half-life, meaning that they break down slowly. This meant that they could be tested for in the blood, even if exposure happened several years ago. However, the blood sample cannot tell us the source of the pollutants, such as if it was through work, at home or even from eating fruit and vegetables that had been sprayed with pesticides. Continue reading

Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi wins prestigious prize

Huge congratulations to Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi for winning the prestigious Sheila Essey Award at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) research conference taking place in Vancouver, Canada.

Professor Al-Chalabi is an MND Association funded researcher and Professor of Neurology and Complex Disease Genetics at King’s College London. He is also the Director of our MND Care and Research Centre at King’s.

The Sheila Essey Award is jointly given by the AAN and the ALS Association in the USA, and recognises an individual who has made significant research contributions in the search for the cause, prevention of, and cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, a type of MND).

Prof Al-Chalabi is receiving the award for his role in helping us learn more about the complex causes of MND, including the role of genetics in the non-familial form of MND.

“It is a wonderful acknowledgement of the work the present and past members of my team have done in ALS/MND research,” Prof Al-Chalabi said. Continue reading

Janine Kirby: My 20 years in MND research

Janine Kirby is a Non-Clinical Reader in Neurogenetics and is celebrating 20 years in motor neurone disease (MND) research this month. Here she tells us more about how she got into the field, her current projects, what it’s like to work at Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and to meet families affected by MND.

Dr Janine Kirby

Dr Janine Kirby

How and why did you get into MND research?

Having completed my PhD at University College London, I wanted to apply my knowledge of genetics to medical research. I subsequently joined the MND Research Group at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, headed by Prof Pamela Shaw, looking at the frequency of genetic changes in the SOD1 gene in MND patients from the North East of England.

Since then, firstly at Newcastle and then at the University of Sheffield, I have provided genetic input to the research strategy of investigating the molecular basis of this complex genetic disorder. I am now a Reader in Neurogenetics at SITraN working not only on the genetics of MND but also using a method termed transcriptomics (basically which genes are being switched on or off, and by how much) to discover biomarkers for the disease and to understand why the motor neurones are dying.

20 years later I’m still here because it’s incredibly challenging and interesting research, with the opportunity to work with great colleagues and collaborators across the world. Continue reading

More clues to the inner workings of the C9orf72 gene

Continuing the ‘gene hunting theme’ on from our last blog post on Project MinE, a recently published study has shed more light on the C9orf72 gene mutation.

The C9orf72 gene mutation is the most common cause of the rare inherited form of MND (about 40% of all people with inherited MND have this mutation). Some people with the sporadic form of MND also have this mutation, and it has been linked to the development of a type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Figuring out the normal function of C9orf72

A study by Jacqueline O’Rourke and colleagues at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles used mice that lacked the equivalent gene to C9orf72.

When this gene was absent, the mice developed normally and their motor nerve cells were unaffected.

From this evidence they discounted one of theories about the C9orf72 mutation – that a change to the gene stops it working entirely and that this affects the health of motor neurons. Continue reading

Looking for MND genes: Project MinE update

Project MinE is an international genetics project that is analysing DNA from people with MND in detail.

For the majority of people with MND, the disease appears ‘sporadically’ for no apparent reason. For a small number of people, approximately 5-10% of those with MND there is an inherited link, in other words the disease runs in their families.

We know a lot about the genes that are damaged in the rare inherited forms of MND. We also know that very subtle genetic factors, together with environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to why the majority of people develop the disease. These subtle genetic factors are very hard to find.

The goal of Project MinE is to find the other genes that cause inherited MND and help us find out more about these subtle genetic risk factors.

mine

Project MinE was born when Dutch entrepreneur Bernard Muller challenged his neurologist to do something with all the DNA samples in his freezer – samples being stored there for future analysis. ‘Why can’t those samples be analysed now?’ was his question. That was two years ago! Continue reading