‘From antibiotics and insulin to blood transfusions and treatments for cancer or HIV, virtually every medical achievement in the past century has depended directly or indirectly on research using animals’ – from the Royal Society’s position statement on the use of animals in research.
We know that talking about using animals in research is an emotive topic. We appreciate that some people will never accept that using animals in research is necessary, and we understand that it is not our place to try and influence anyone’s opinion on the use of animals in research. The purpose of this blog is to explore how using animal models of MND can further our understanding of this devastating disease, and how animals make it possible for potential new treatments for the disease to move forward into clinical trials in people.Read More »
After its successful premiere in 2017, the University of Oxford organised another meeting of people affected by inherited MND, called ‘Families for the Treatment of Hereditary MND (FaTHoM)’. This turned out to be yet another excellent day where MND clinicians-researchers presented on topics such as genetics of MND, genetic testing and gene therapies. Below you can find out more about what was presented on the day and links to the videos of recorded talks.
Understanding familial MND
Introducing the rationale of the meeting, Prof Martin Turner set the scene by explaining the great difficulty in understanding the disease due to its many possible causes. Being such long cells, many things can go wrong in the motor neurones and in the vast amount of their support cells (such as astrocytes or microglia). But one factor can help us understand the disease better – genes.
Exploring the link between our guts and our general health is becoming increasingly popular. Studies of people with various physical and mental health conditions suggest there may be an important link that has not yet been explored in MND.
Researchers are now looking closely into the association between our gut microbiome and our vulnerability to develop a range of psychological and neurological conditions, ranging from autism, depression, schizophrenia, to multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and MND.
Now more than ever, research into finding out more about the impact of our microbiome on our mental and physical wellbeing is being carried out, with more than 80% of all scientific publications on gut microbiome being published after 2013. This surge of interest in the topic is quite optimistic and has the potential to repair any functions affected by the ill-effects of gut imbalance.Read More »
A recent press release by the pharmaceutical company Biogen reported preliminary results from an ongoing clinical trial investigating a form of precision therapy in people with SOD1-related MND. This drug, known as tofersen, is now in the final stages of Phase 1/2 testing in centres across the world, including Sheffield in the UK.
Tofersen is an antisense oligonucleotide (ASO), designed to prevent the faulty disease-causing protein from being made. Proteins, the building blocks of the body, are created from our genetic information (DNA) via its photocopy (RNA). If a piece of DNA is damaged, the RNA will also be damaged, leading to formation of a faulty protein and creating issues in the body. Tofersen is a synthetically-created RNA directed to stick to the faulty photocopy (RNA) preventing it from making faulty proteins.Read More »
“The annals of ALS clinical trials is strewn with failed studies. Only two out of more than 70 clinical trials have been positive, and even these showed only very modest benefit. Is this dismal record strictly due to the extraordinary complexity of neurodegenerative disease in general, and ALS in particular? Or is it due to methodological flaws that could be repaired?”
Robert G Miller, Professor of Neurology, Stanford University
Although there is not much we can do about disease complexity, improving the way treatments are trialed is something that can be achieved. Imagine a world without clinical trials, where independent companies or individuals would be allowed to sell their self-made ‘drugs’ without any evidence that they were ever used on anyone with the disease, let alone that they would improve one’s condition. No one would know what the drug is (which could simply be a water solution), how it works and whether as soon as the drug is taken, we would be poisoned.
Thankfully, this is not the case and clinical trials, although not perfect, are considered the gold standard for approving any treatment. However, there are still some improvements that can be done to make trials easier to access and provide more accurate estimates of drugs’ effectiveness much faster.
Is it possible that a drug that treats congestive heart failure could improve respiration in people with MND? Or that a drug used to treat cancer could reduce motor neuron inflammation and possibly slow progression of the disease? In this blog we take a look at drug repurposing – using a drug developed to treat a particular disease to treat another that is unrelated – what it is, and what it might mean for people living with MND.Read More »
Last year professional football players, Len Johnrose and Stephen Darby, announced they’d been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND). This follows previous announcements from other prominent footballers in this country and across the world in recent years.
Is it the case that professional football players are more prone to developing MND than the general population? Or is this just the impression created by the high-profile nature of these professionals and the corresponding media coverage these cases bring? What does the science suggest?
Here we look at some of the studies that investigate the incidence (rate of newly diagnosed cases) of MND in professional football players and take a closer look at the suggested causes.Read More »
MND Association-supported clinical fellow Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock, and a PhD student Tobias Moll, report mutations in a new MND gene which has uncovered a previously unknown disease mechanism. The new MND causing gene holds instructions for a class of proteins, called glycosyltransferase (GLT8D1), which has not previously been associated with neurodegeneration.
During the experiments, published in the journal Cell Reports, the research team read the genetic code from two related patients with an unknown familial (inherited) form of MND and found a change in the gene that makes an enzyme called GLT8D1. They went on to examine a larger sample of 103 people with inherited MND and found that five of these also had this gene abnormality, indicating that this change causes MND. Because the enzyme and its mechanism have never previously been associated with MND, this study has uncovered a new genetic and biological cause of the disease.Read More »
Findings from the largest biomarker study of people with Kennedy’s Disease, published in the journal Neurology, found a predictive biomarker to help in differential diagnosis and tracking clinical progression. Led by Dr Pietro Fratta from University College London, the research team highlighted the importance of markers of muscle mass rather than neuronal damage in Kennedy’s Disease, differentiating it from the slightly more common motor neurone disease (MND).
Kennedy’s Disease, also known as Spinal and Bulbar Muscular Atrophy (SBMA), is a rare genetic condition that leads to progressive weakening and wasting of muscles, particularly affecting the limbs and bulbar region. Caused by a mistake on the AR (androgen receptor) gene (positioned on the X chromosome), this condition mainly affects males, with a 50% chance of receiving the affected gene from their mothers (women can only be carriers of the genetic mistake without developing the disease).
Despite the winter chill, there is a warm fuzzy feeling today with the news of a paper published in the journal ‘Brain’ by an MND Association funded Research Fellow, Dr Scott Allen. Based at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), Dr Allen was awarded a Senior Non-Clinical Research Fellowship by the Association in 2016, and we are immensely proud to have been able to play a supporting role in his work.
In his paper, Dr Allen and his colleagues took a novel approach to understanding how MND affects the pathways that are important for making energy in cells of the central nervous system (CNS), that are crucial to keep motor neurons functioning and alive. Specifically, his work has pinpointed a specific mechanism that is changed in MND. The team also demonstrated that there is the potential to tackle this issue by circumventing the problem in order to maintain a critical energy balance in the CNS, and therefore potentially identifying a significant new target in the development of future treatment.