Life of an MND researcher – part 2: PhD edition

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 our previous article we introduced four MND researchers who gave us an insight what a typical day in the life of a researcher looks like and what carrying out a research study actually involves. In this continuation article, you will get the chance to look into the lives of four PhD students, who give us an overview of their projects and their usual daily duties. Continue reading

Families for the Treatment of Hereditary MND (FaTHoM)

Scientists from the University of Oxford have set up ‘Families for the Treatment of Hereditary MND’ (FaTHoM), an initiative to bring together the community of families affected by inherited forms of MND. Their first meeting will take place in Oxford on Tuesday 18th April.

Most people living with MND cannot identify a relative who has also had the condition. However, around 5% of people with MND will have a family history of the disease, which is known as inherited or familial MND. This happens when a single faulty gene is passed down from parents to their children across number of generations.

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AMBRoSIA – our biggest ever research project

The AMBRoSIA (A Multicentre Biomarker Resource Strategy In ALS) project is our biggest, most ambitious research undertaking to date. The project funding began in August, closely followed by being the focus of this month’s ‘Make Your Mark’ fundraising appeal. Here we explain more about what this flagship project is all about. Continue reading

Transforming skin cells into nerve cells to understand MND gene mutations

In previous research Prof Kevin Talbot and colleagues at the University of Oxford began to understand more about how the C9orf72 gene defect causes human motor neurones to die. These studies were carried out using an impressive piece of lab technology, called induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology.

iPSC technology allows skin cells to be reprogrammed into stem cells, which are then directed to develop into motor neurones. Because they originated from people with MND, the newly created motor neurones will also be affected by the disease. Researchers can grow and study these cells in a dish in the laboratory. Continue reading

Developing the Biomarkers in Oxford Project

Biomarkers in Oxford (BioMOx) is a research project with the aim of identifying a diagnostic biomarker for MND, which could be used to track the progression of this condition.

What are biomarkers?

The aim is to identify biomarkers, or ‘biological fingerprints’ for MND. This could be through testing blood and spinal fluid (CSF) samples from people with MND, or using MRI scans and other imaging techniques to look at changes in the brain.

By understanding the very earliest changes detected in these samples at the start of MND (the biomarker), it is hoped that they could be used to work towards disease prevention and to develop more targeted therapy for those already affected by MND.

For example, including a biomarker element in future clinical trials will help us learn more about the disease and identify participants most likely to benefit from the drug being tested.

Being able to track the progression of the disease could also help with effective care-planning for people with MND. Continue reading

Developing a drug screen using nerve cells from a mouse model of MND

In a previous research project funded by the MND Association, Prof Kevin Talbot and colleagues from the University of Oxford developed a new TDP-43 mouse model of MND. Compared to other mouse models of MND, this one accurately reflects the symptoms of the disease and levels of the TDP-43 protein as seen in humans.

TDP43 location in the cell

Location of TDP-43 protein (shown in red) in healthy nerve cells, and how it moves into different parts of the cell in MND

This model of MND also shows how the TDP-43 protein becomes displaced from the nucleus (command centre of the cell) out into the cell cytoplasm, which makes up the cell body. Once TDP-43 has moved to the cytoplasm it is very difficult to shift, as it forms protein aggregates or clumps. It is thought that these clumps contribute to motor neurone cell death.

Prof Talbot’s latest project, together with researcher Dr David Gordon, is using cultured nerve cells from this new mouse model to screen a large library of drugs (our project reference: 831-791).

In the next two years, they will create an automated computerised imaging system that can detect the TDP-43 protein within the nerve cells (and see if it has moved out of the nucleus). With this imaging software the researchers aim to screen thousands of drug compounds in a short space of time, including some which have been approved for other illnesses. A ‘good’ drug will make TDP-43 stay in the correct location within the nerve cell’s nucleus. Continue reading

Protecting motor neurones against oxidative stress in MND

During the early stages of MND it is proposed that motor neurones are more susceptible to an imbalance of oxygen within the cells, known as oxidative stress. Prof Dame Kay Davies, at the University of Oxford, has previously shown that increasing the levels of the gene Oxr1 can protect motor neurones from death caused by oxidative stress and delay MND in mice. You can read about this work here. Continue reading

The MND Register of England, Wales and Northern Ireland

What is the MND Register?

The MND Register is a major five year project that aims to collect and store information about every person living with MND in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is led by world-class MND researchers Prof Ammar Al-Chalabi and Prof Kevin Talbot, at a cost of £400,500 (our grant reference: 926-794).

Why is it important?

MND is believed to affect 5,000 people in the UK at any one time, however the true figure is not known as there is currently no way of recording this information. The register aims to provide us with the true number of people living with MND in the UK.

The information collected will answer questions about how many people have MND in different areas, how the condition progresses, and how the disease can affect people. The register will connect people with MND to researchers, including those conducting clinical trials, and will provide valuable information to guide the future development of care services.

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How will information be collected and used?

The register will be advertised nationally to all people with MND and related healthcare professionals. People with MND will be provided with detailed information about the register, and after some time for consideration, they can agree to take part. Their information will be recorded onto a secure database, either by a healthcare professional, or by the person with MND themselves through a register website (this will then be checked by a healthcare professional). Continue reading

The role of the protein TDP-43 in MND due to C9orf72 mutations

Mistakes in the C9orf72 gene are the most common cause of inherited MND, and can be linked to about 40% of all cases. Now that we know that damage to the C9orf72 gene causes MND the next step is to understand how this mutation causes the motor neurones to die. In particular Dr Jakub Scaber is looking at how another cause of MND – the formation of clumps of protein called TDP-43 are linked to changes to C9orf72. (You can read more about TDP-43 in the post about Dr Mitchell’s project yesterday).

Jakub Scaber

Dr Jakub Scaber, University of Oxford

Dr Jakub Scaber is a MND Association/ MRC Lady Edith Wolfson Clinical Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, he is studying how mistakes in the C9orf72 gene and TDP-43 protein cause MND (our grant reference: 945-795).

These fellowships are jointly funded by the Association and the Medical Research Council (MRC). They support clinicians (practising doctors) wishing to pursue scientific research and aim to strengthen the links between laboratory and clinic. Our financial commitment to these fellowships varies between £86,000 and £280,000 for up to five years. For this project the total cost of the grant is £173,697 and the MND Association contributes £86,848 with the MRC paying the rest of the money. Continue reading

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…..and prizes….

The fantastic news that Patrick Joyce and his co-inventors have won the 2015 Hackaday Prize for their ‘Eyedrivomatic’ invention is one of a number of research prizes announced this autumn.

Martin Turner award

Prof Martin Turner receiving his award from Prof Jane Dacre, RCP President

At the beginning of November Prof Martin Turner was presented with the Graham Bull Prize for Clinical Science by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP). The Prize is awarded to a member of the RCP under the age of 45 who has made a major contribution to clinical science.

The winner of the Graham Bull Prize is also invited to deliver the prestigious Goulstonian Lecture, an annual lecture given by a young RCP member that dates back to 1635 and the list of previous speakers reads as a ‘Who’s Who’ of the history of British Medicine!

Those of you who know Martin, in particular the many participants who volunteer for his BioMOx research programme will be pleased to see his new title: he was awarded the title of Professor by the University of Oxford in July this year. Aren’t Professors getting younger looking these days…! Continue reading