Milan 2013 symposium catch-up

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Sam (left) and Belinda at the 'Mini Networker for Delegates'
Sam (left) and Belinda at the ‘Mini Networker for Delegates’

The 24th International Symposium on ALS/MND was the most successful to date with over 950 clinicians, healthcare professionals and scientists attending the meeting in Milan.


There was a ‘hive’ of activity on social media this year with over twenty researchers ‘tweeting’ during the event and fourteen of them reporting on our peer-to-peer blog ReCCoB. We also contributed by tweeting updates throughout the conference using the hashtag #alssymp. You can view the tweets from the symposium here (even if you don’t have a Twitter account!).

With over 100 presentations and nearly 400 posters there was a wealth of clinical and scientific research discussed during the symposium. Networking amongst researchers also stretched out over coffee and lunch breaks, with a number of new international collaborations formed by the end of the meeting. Tip of the iceberg

Director of Research, Dr Brian Dickie said: “The coming together of research and care professionals from around the world is crucial for sharing knowledge, skills and expertise. It is by working together that we can, as a global body, work towards improving the lives of those with MND.”

“Only a small percentage of networking among peers is visible, much like an iceberg. So much more goes on beneath the surface during coffee breaks, breakfast meetings and maybe in the bar at the end of the day!

LIVE reports We wrote more detailed reports on a number of topics discussed during the symposium from genetic testing to neuroimaging and we’ve summarised these below, along with links to the full reports.

Genetic testing – guidelines needed We report on what guidelines are currently in place for people living with MND and wishing to pursue genetic testing. Prof Orla Hardiman (Dublin, Ireland) asked ‘To test or not to test?’ in her plenary talk.

Dr Hikari Ando, the Walton Centre NHS Foundation

Just the TONiC Miss Hikari Ando (The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust) presented her research on quality of life but she pitched her talk as ‘What people living with MND thought of quality of life’ and explained that ‘quality of life is not just something of physical decline’

Unravelling TDP-43 toxicity A session was dedicated to the topic of RNA processing and dysregulation with several of the talks presenting work on understanding the role of TDP43 in MND.

Clinical trials in a dish? Delegates were given a fascinating whistle stop tour covering stem cells, robots and cellular garbage clearing, by Dr Steve Finkbeiner of the University of California, as well as a glimpse into the future of developing ‘disease in a dish’ models of MND.

Clusters of MND – what can we learn?

Dr Ettore Beghi at the 24th International Symposium on ALS/MND

When you hear the word ‘cluster’ the first thing that comes to mind is probably a group of stars – not MND. During a plenary talk by Dr Ettore Beghi on Saturday 7 December the question was:  ‘Is there anything we can learn from clusters in MND?’

Tilting the scales When there is no family history, researchers think that the disease is likely to involve a much more complex interplay of subtle genetic and environmental risk factors – each acting on their own more like a grain of sand rather than a weight – it may take a combination of many such factors that finally, after several decades, cause the scales to start tilting and the disease to appear.

Neuroimaging – can we see more clearly? Over the past ten years there have been significant advances in the identification of neuroimaging patterns in MND. Dr Filippi focused mainly on the use of MRI neuroimaging (a technique used to visualise changes in the brain). He stated: “Through the use of MRI we have been able to detect cortical thickness of the Cerebral cortex (the outermost layer of the brain), which is significantly reduced in MND”.

MND researchers and healthcare professionals networking before the start of the symposium
MND researchers and healthcare professionals networking before the start of the symposium

The Russian dolls of networking In light of all of these opportunities to network, organising a mini-networker for delegates was almost creating a Russian doll of networking – you come to the Symposium to network, then, within that there’s another opportunity to network, then within that etc

Physical activity and MND – is there a link? The results of new research investigating a link between physical activity and MND was presented by the University of Sheffield research group in the late-breaking news session on the last day of the 24th International Symposium on ALS/MND. Under the leadership of Prof Pam Shaw, along with Dr Chris McDermott, MND Association-funded researcher Dr Ceryl Harwood presented her findings.

The cell that never grew up With Pantomime season kicking off back home in the UK, delegates in Milan were introduced to one of the newest cellular villains in the MND story – oligodendrocytes. Although oligodendrocytes were first identified in the 1920s and are known to be affected in multiple sclerosis, they were generally considered as ‘bit part’ players in MND rather than ‘centre stage’.

Celebrating posters If you followed the reporting about the symposium, I’m willing to bet (but I haven’t checked!) that most it will have been about the talks that people attended or liked. When actually, a large proportion of the research presented at the International Symposium on ALS/MND is in the form of a poster.

After you’ve finished reading the symposium articles that interest you, we’d be grateful if you could spare a few minutes to fill in our short online survey on our symposium reporting. Your comments really are useful and allow us to continually improve our symposium reporting