Introductory blog post: Samantha Price

Samantha Price

I have recently joined the Motor Neurone Disease Association as a part-time ‘Research Information Co-ordinator’ and this blog post is a little bit about my background and how this benefits my role within the Association.

In my role I work in the Research Development Team understanding and interpreting current research into Motor Neurone Disease (MND). One of my main roles is to digest research into easily understandable pieces of information for staff, and those affected by, or currently living with, MND. This is an exciting role as there is no point in research if nobody can understand it!

Research scientists often live in their own bubble, working long days and nights alone in a lab. Due to this, they use over complicated language to explain the simplest of things. This is why research articles are so difficult to understand by the majority of the general public due to them being full of scientific jargon and jumbles of acronyms.

How do I know this? I’ve just finished my lab work for my PhD and spent 3 years in a lab doing research and writing research papers! When you’re in the lab all day alone, and spend all of your time communicating with other researchers, you forget about the rest of the world (who have no idea what you’re doing).

This is why the majority of scientists are terrible at communicating science so that people, such as their parents, can understand it.

My PhD is on an area completely different to MND. I worked with bacteria and other nasty microorganisms in order to develop a new disinfectant. This research was in an area I have huge a passion for, and who knows… If my work is responsible for the development of a new product, I may get a few pennies!

As a researcher I have published a number of scientific papers as well as presenting posters and presentations at international and national conferences. Due to this experience I am well aware of the research world!

Before my PhD, I did a degree in Biomedical Science, learning all about human disease, diagnostic tests and treatment. As well as studying for this degree I also trained as a Biomedical Scientist in all areas of hospital pathology. A Biomedical Scientist is known as the ‘unseen health professional’ as they work in the hospital labs. When a doctor sends a blood/urine sample etc. off, the Biomedical Scientist receives it and runs diagnostic tests on it. After interpreting the results the Biomedical Scientist then sends the results to the doctor who then decides on the appropriate treatment. During this role I performed a range of different diagnostic tests in order to make a diagnosis.

Whilst doing my PhD I realised that throughout my scientific career I have done an awful lot of ‘talking and writing’. With this in mind I thought ‘What’s the point in doing research if nobody other than my supervisor has a clue what I’m doing?’  After this realisation, I started writing science in a new way, a way that everyone could understand. The more I wrote, the more I got people excited and interested in science.

Through this passion of communicating science to others I have given my career as a research scientist a break for the time being, which I may, or may not pursue in the future.

Hopefully starting my career in communicating science with the Motor Neurone Disease Association will help the Association achieve their goal of a ‘World Free of MND’ as well as achieve my own personal goal of getting as many people as possible interested in, and excited by science.

Three new projects, three steps closer to a world free of MND

Next month will see the start of three new Association-funded research projects that will each move us closer to achieving some of the key targets set out in our research strategy. They involve recently discovered genetic causes of MND, new disease models and a novel way of measuring the progress of the disease – all very exciting stuff! You can read more about the projects here.

The three research teams involved are embarking on their new investigations just as Marion and Natasha are busy preparing for next month’s Research Advisory Panel meeting, where more applications for funding will be assessed. The MND research machine never sleeps!

‘Hello’ from the newest member of the team

As the newest recruit to the Research Development Team, I have been asked to let everyone know a bit more about me.  Previously I was a Medicinal Chemist working for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for almost 20 years.  In that time I “survived” two corporate mergers and worked at three different research sites.  For almost a third of my career I was involved with neuroscience projects, seeking new therapies for Alzheimer’s Disease or chronic pain.  My main role was to design and synthesise new molecules, which were then passed to biologists for testing, the results being used for the next round of design.  

Earlier this year, GSK senior management decided to decrease its neuroscience research, resulting in many redundancies.  I have extensive voluntary experience of working with disabled people, and in organising other volunteers.  I decided to see if I could use my scientific knowledge in a job which would benefit sick or disabled people – and then I saw the advert for Research Grants Manager at the MND Association.  As I discovered more about the disease and the Association (thanks to all involved with the invaluable and comprehensive website), met enthusiastic people at my interview, and recognised that I had previously known people with MND though my volunteering, I realised this would be a great opportunity.

With little prior knowledge of Motor Neurone Disease, I have been on a steep learning curve over the past two weeks.  I have had meetings with representatives from many of the other teams, so I can understand how we all work together for the common aims of the Association.  I was lucky to attend the AGM and Annual Conference, where I met an even greater range of people, including volunteers and some of the Trustees.  The keynote speaker was Professor Nigel Leigh (Kings College, London), who gave an excellent overview of the current status of biomedical research into the causes of MND.   It is important that I have a good understanding of the relevant science before the Biomedical Research Advisory Panel Meeting in October, so I have been reading lots about recent and current research.  It has been quite hard work to understand the detailed biology, especially getting to grips with all the acronyms , but my colleagues have been answering my questions with patience.  I have also accompanied Brian to a meeting arranged to foster collaboration between two different groups of researchers.  

My experience in “drug discovery” falls somewhere between the main areas of research currently funded by the MND Association – ie the biomedical studies into causes of the disease and the clinical investigations of potential therapies and of ways to improve quality of life for patients.   However, my industrial experience has given me a good understanding of how basic research is essential before new therapies can be developed.  Already we are funding one research project in collaboration with a biotech company and another where the academic scientists hope to identify chemicals that can correct a problem with faulty SOD1 proteins.  With “incurable optimism” we can look forward to more projects like these in the future.

Belinda – incurable optimist

I am optimistic every time I prepare a talk when I look for something new to say about advances in research.

Since the discovery of the TDP43 mutation in 2008, I have become spoilt for choice! Every year I have been able to talk about new genetic discoveries to the local groups, branches and healthcare professionals that I present to. These discoveries are clear markers on the way to a world free of MND – giving insights into the inherited and sporadic forms of MND, what goes wrong in motor neurones themselves and identifying targets for the development of new treatments. The ‘scent’ of a new discovery attracts new researchers and scientists into the field too.

These are the reasons that I am incurably optimistic about research.

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Natasha – incurable optimist

After being asked to write about why I am a research optimist, I tried to think about the achievements in MND research.

After attending the Care Centre directors meeting I have seen that there is not just biomedical, lab based research going on, there is also a lot of clinical research going on within our Care Centres. This type of research ensures ongoing improvements in healthcare.

This makes me feel optimistic about the ongoing care and treatments for people living with MND.

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Kelly – incurable optimist

MND does not respect national boundaries and neither does our research efforts.

There are so many researchers, clinicians and health and social care professionals from around the world who dedicate their whole careers to unlocking the secrets of MND. What makes me optimistic about research, are the people who push research to the next level.

This can be seen through researchers collaborating with others on an international scale to push their studies forwards. They can also help to develop young PhD students into the new generation of researchers who will be able to bring new and exciting ideas to the table in years to come.

Being an expert in MND research is a big enough achievement in itself but by sharing their knowledge they can inspire others to achieve and ensure that the world of MND research is in safe hands for the future.

Seeing this inspirational optimism from the researchers themselves makes me optimistic about the future of MND research.

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We are incurable optimists

Next week is MND awareness week (19 June to 27 June).

Awareness week sees the national launch of our brand new awareness campaign called Incurable Optimism, led by Patrick Joyce who has MND.

To celebrate the launch of our new campaign, each member of the research development team will be posting why they are incurably optimistic about MND research throughout the week.

We hope you enjoy reading each post  next week and will join us in following our new Incurable Optimism campaign.

Who will be blogging?

Over the next few months, you’ll meet the members of our research development team as we blog to give you an insight into the world of MND Association research. Here’s a quick overview of your research bloggers:

Blogging on how we are guiding and progressing MND research is Dr Brian Dickie, our director of research development and Dr Belinda Cupid, head of research.

Blogging on MND research news, both worldwide and at home, as well as news about our International Symposium on ALS/MND is Kate Arkell and Kelly Johnstone our research information co-ordinators.

Blogging on how we administer the plethora of research projects that we fund from application to the end point is Natasha Rowe, research grants administrator and Marion Reichle, research grants co-ordinator.

This is just a snap-shot of what each blogger does within our team. We’ll be posting interviews with each team member over the next few months so if you have any burning questions you’d like to see answered in each of these interviews then please leave us a comment.

Over time, you’ll get to know us all and we hope that you will enjoy reading our blog entries and following our progress throughout the year.

Welcome to the research development team blog

Dr Brian Dickie, director of research development

 

I’m Brian Dickie, director of research at the MND Association and I’d like to welcome you to our new blog. 

As some of you may already know, we blogged for the first time at last year’s 20th International Symposium on ALS/MND. Needless to say, we have now caught the ‘blogging bug’ and have decided to expand our focus to what’s going on in the world of MND research and what we get up to in the research development team.  

The pace of research is picking up and we are all excited about being able to give you the ‘inside scoop’ on new discoveries, as well as giving you an insight into the work we do. I hope you will join us in keeping up-to-date with our activities and MND research advances that we will write about in this blog.  

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