It was a chilly -15oC in New York on Sunday night, but the temperature on Monday morning was considerably higher – fuelled in part by anticipation of the presentations and debate to come – as 60 delegates from 14 countries gathered for a workshop on the use of stem cells in research and treatment of ALS/MND.
As many of the leading names in the field started filing into the meeting room, I found myself thinking (rather morbidly) that if the hotel blew up, research in this field would be set back a decade…
Learning from the past to push stem cell research forward
The opening session was motivating, with Dutch neurologist Prof Leonard van den Berg and MND Association funded researcher Prof Chris Shaw providing overviews of our current understanding of the causes of MND and the clinical and pathological ‘spectrum’ of the disease.
A lot of Prof Shaw’s presentation focused on the TDP-43 protein, which is a ‘pathological hallmark’ of dying motor neurones. It struck me that scientists understanding of TDP-43 appears to be accumulating faster than it did for SOD1, 15 years ago – a consequence of the advances in technology and the fact that there are many more researchers around the world working on MND these days.
Dr Lucie Bruijn, science director of our counterpart organisation in the USA –the ALS Association, concluded the opening session with a scene-setting presentation, highlighting the work that has been done over many years in developing motor neurone cell cultures (from mice and rats) and using these to screen for potential protective drugs.
There have been many challenges every step of the way, but the learning from these past studies will be vital in moving stem cell research forward in the future.
In the next few blog posts, I will take you on a whistle stop tour of the questions asked by 60 of the world’s leading MND stem cell researchers at the stem cell workshop and the answers we were met with so stay tuned…
Please also read our press release on our website for more information on how we are helping to shape the future of stem cell research.