Life of an MND researcher: part 1

Each year, the MND Association dedicates the month of June to raising MND awareness. This year, we focus on the eyes – in most people with MND the only part of their body they can still move and the only way left for them to communicate. Alongside the Association-wide campaign, the Research Development team selected six most-enquired about topics, which we will address through six dedicated blogs.

We all know that rigorous research is the key to finding a cure for MND. Scientists are working hard every day to find the causes of MND, developing new treatments that would help tackle the disease and also looking for new ways to improve the quality of life of people currently living with the disease. But what does it take to have research at heart of everything you do? What is the typical day in the life of a researcher and what does carrying out a research study actually involves?

We asked eight researchers to give us an idea of what their research is all about and what their typical day looks like. Read about four of them in the following blog and keep an eye out for ‘Part 2: PhD edition‘ in the next few days… Continue reading

Stem cells and MND

Each year, the MND Association dedicates the month of June to raising MND awareness. This year, we focus on the eyes – in most people with MND the only part of their body they can still move and the only way left for them to communicate. Alongside the Association-wide campaign, the Research Development team selected six most-enquired about topics, which we will address through six dedicated blogs.

In this blog I’ve chosen to write about two examples of how stem cells are used in MND research – one example from a stem cell therapy clinical trial and the other example from how stem cells are used in the lab. Before explaining these in more detail, I felt it would be helpful to have a brief introduction to stem cells – and signpost you to other sources of information along the way.

Introducing stem cells
Stem cells are basic cells that have the potential to grow into any cell type – whether that’s heart cells or liver cells, muscle or motor neurones. Another way of putting it is that stem cells are cells that don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. To realise their potential and to convert themselves into other cell types, stem cells need triggers from the body – or chemicals added in the lab – that push them towards becoming more specialised cells. Continue reading

What goes wrong with electrical signalling in MND?

Last year, we introduced a PhD Studentship that we are funding at the University of St Andrews. Under the supervision of Dr Gareth Miles and Prof Siddharthan Chandran, the student working on this project, Amit Chouhan, is investigating why electrical signalling goes wrong in MND.

As the project enters its second year, Amit and the team have made some important discoveries… Continue reading

Using stem cell technology to understand more about how MND and FTD develop

The MND Association are funding Prof Kevin Talbot, Dr Ruxandra Dafinca (née Mutihac) and colleagues at the University of Oxford, who are investigating the link between the C9orf72 and TDP-43 genes in MND. We wrote about this research earlier in the year. As we’ve recently received their first year progress report we wanted to give you an update on what they’ve achieved. Continue reading

Stem cell trials in the news

The recent announcement about the use of stem cells to treat a form of multiple sclerosis (MS), together with early results from the BrainStorm stem cell amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) clinical trial in Israel have raised the profile of stem cells as a possible treatment for motor neurone disease.

Stem cells are unspecialised cells in the body which do not yet perform a particular function. They can renew themselves and have the ability to give rise to different types of cell, including nerve cells (motor neurones and the surrounding support cells).

Both the ALS/MND study (ALS is a type of motor neurone disease) and the MS study used stem cells found in bone marrow taken from the patient, and then given back to the same patient later on in the process. The MND study gave a new use to the bone marrow stem cells, whereas in the MS study ‘corrupt/damaged’ stem cells were replaced with a new healthier set.

Below we look at both trials in more detail and describe what they mean for people living with MND. Continue reading

Clinical trials update from Symposium

Clinical trials determine if potential treatments are safe and aim to prove beyond reasonable doubt whether a drug is beneficial. They are therefore the gold standard of treatment research.

More information on the different types of clinical trial can be found on our website and in our information sheet on the topic.

This year the Symposium session on clinical trials looked at three drugs and one therapy. Dr Brian Dickie has posted a separate blog on one of these drug treatments – Edaravone.

A summary of the results from the drugs and treatments discussed is below. More information on each of them in detail is later on in this blog.

Ibudilast: This drug was safe and well tolerated in those who were not using non-invasive ventilation. However, these are results from an early stage trial so more research is needed to establish possible long-term benefit.

Methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12 injections): If this treatment is given early (within 12 months of diagnosis) then it showed an effect at increasing survival in a small sub-group of those taking part in the trial. This effect was not seen when the treatment was given further on from diagnosis.

Stem cell therapy: This small, early Phase 1/2 trial was testing the safety of bone-marrow derived stem cell injections into the spinal cord. The researchers found this treatment had no major side effects. Further studies are needed to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of this treatment over the long-term.Clinical trial flow chart

Continue reading

Measuring the nerve impulse

Devlin et al (2015)

Researchers identify that loss of nerve signalling may be an early sign of MND

Published in Nature Communications on 12 January 2015, Association-funded PhD student Anna-Claire Devlin, based at the University of St Andrews, has identified that loss of nerve signalling may be an early sign of MND.

Under the leadership of Dr Gareth Miles and Prof Siddharthan Chandran (University of Edinburgh), Anna-Claire measured the nerve impulses in stem cell derived human motor neurones and identified that the ability to send a nerve impulse is impaired during the early stages of the disease. Continue reading

On the sixth day of Christmas MND research gave to me: Blog a Day 2014

“On the sixth day of Christmas MND research gives to you… on the SIXTH month of 2014 we wrote a Blog a Day, and you can still read them all online today.”

Stem cell-derived human motor neurones are being used by researchers to understand more about MND (image courtesy of Dr Scaber, University of Oxford)

Stem cell-derived human motor neurones are being used by researchers to understand more about MND (image courtesy of Dr Scaber, University of Oxford)

The sixth month of the year is June, which is also MND Awareness month. During 2014 we brought you a blog a day (sometimes two) during the month of June,

Ranging from research updates to experiences of getting involved in research, we covered the variety of research funded by the Association and the work of the Research Development team.

Dr Jakub Scaber’s blog post on stem cells was the top-rated blog post of the month, with an impressive image of stem cell-derived motor neurones.

Click here to read all the Blog a Day posts

On the fourth day of Christmas MND research gave to me: a new stem cell research project

“On the fourth day of Christmas MND research gives to you… on the FOURTH month of 2014, we announced that we’ll fund an exciting new stem cell project”

Prof Linda Greensmith, University College London

Prof Linda Greensmith, University College London

During our April Biomedical Research Advisory Panel Meeting we agreed to fund seven new MND research projects. These projects included Prof Linda Greensmith’s research on Restoring muscle function with transplanted stem-cell derived motor neurones.

Based at University College London, this study will use stem cell technology to restore muscle function in a mouse model of MND. The researchers will transplant stem-cell derived motor neurones and then guide them to where they’re needed using light.

Prof Greensmith and her team aim to restore function to the muscles that are responsible for breathing and develop an optical stimulator, which can then be implanted into the body to stimulate the transplanted cells for long periods of time. If successful, this technique could form the basis of future treatments that could potentially restore muscle function in MND.

Click here to read more about the research that lead to us funding this project

Posters, posters!

During the 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND there were two dedicated sessions for researchers to view over 300 posters. These posters varied from brain imaging to therapeutic strategies. But what is a poster? In this blog I’ll explain more about the session, as well as highlight some of my personal favourites.

Dr Jakub Scaber next to his poster in Brussels

Dr Jakub Scaber next to his poster in Brussels

A biomedical or clinical poster, is in many ways, like an advertising poster. Researchers use colour and text to present their research in a visual way, to engage and discuss their work.

This year’s poster sessions during the symposium were extremely busy, with large crowds often surrounding just one poster and its presenter! The whole room was a real ‘buzz’ of excitement with poster presenters benefitting from the interest and discussion of their work from researchers around the world.

Our Lady Edith Wolfson Clinical Research Fellow, Dr Jakub Scaber (University of Oxford) said: “I didn’t expect such an interest in my work, I ended up being in discussions for well over half an hour – I didn’t even get chance to remove my coat! I really enjoyed the symposium and got to speak to a few more people than I did last year!” Continue reading