A few days before Christmas, I hope that you’ll forgive the obvious pun. Rather than the small green vegetable that you either love or hate, here I’m talking sprouts of new shoots of talent shown by the winners of the poster prizes. They were chosen from over 300 poster presentations at the International Symposium on ALS/MND held in Brussels at the beginning of December.
It was the second year that poster prizes were a feature of the conference. The purpose of the prize was three-fold: to increase the profile of the poster sessions of the meeting; to recognise the quality of the work presented there and to reward presenters of outstanding work.
A shortlist of 18 posters was drawn up ahead of the meeting. During the poster sessions on Friday evening of the Symposium, each of the shortlisted presenters was asked to give a short, 10 minute presentation about their poster. The judges considered the content of the poster – the data presented and how it advanced (or will advance) MND research or clinical practice, and the clear presentation of the work. It’s important that researchers can explain the detail and importance of their work – as well as doing the work itself!
And the winners of the poster prizes were..
The Scientific Poster Prize was won by Maria Salvado from Barcelona, Spain and the Clinical Poster Prize was won by Judith Machts from Magdeburg, Germany. Many congratulations to them both.
Encouragement to pursue their scientific findings
“It was a great and nice surprise to win the scientific prize. I felt really proud and honoured by the MND Association for the recognition of our effort. It gives enormous encouragement for our research team to move forward” Maria told me afterwards.
The work presented in the Scientific Poster Prize winning poster is a classic example of ‘hypothesis led’ research – taking an idea of what might be happening in the brain and spinal cord biologically, backed up by what’s seen in patients’ genetic background.
In more detail: there is evidence that the supporter cells in the brain and spinal cord called microglia may contribute to motor neurone degeneration in MND. Maria and colleagues looked at the instructions to make one of the proteins found within microglia called the fractalkine receptor. She wanted to find out if there were differences in the progression of MND in patients with different versions of the instructions (ie different genetic variations) to make it. To do this she analysed DNA samples from people with MND who had attended the clinic in Barcelona.
“This was a clearly presented and well conducted study which identified a new genetic factor that influences the rate of disease progression and survival time in MND patients. Although it will be necessary to confirm these findings in another set of patient samples, the results presented in this poster not only reveal a new disease-modifying gene in people with sporadic MND, but also reinforce the role of the immune system in the pathogenesis of MND” commented Professor Linda Greensmith, judge on the Scientific Poster Prize panel
Uncovering the road map of the brain
“Advanced MRI scanning methods are now enabling the first glimpses of the brain as a series of interconnected, so-called ‘functional networks’, rather than just as bundles of nerve fibres travelling between two points. Such analysis requires sophisticated mathematical modelling such as that carried out by this year’s poster winner Judith Machts from University of Magdeburg in Germany”, explained Dr Martin Turner, one of the judging Panel for Clinical Poster Prize.
Intriguingly, her work also demonstrated some areas of apparent increased functional connectivity. One explanation is that this represents an attempt by the brain to compensate for the loss of function as MND advances, but another possible explanation envisages a loss of local inhibitory control circuits as part of the disease process – a removal of the brain’s ‘braking system”.
“Though I claim the prize, I do so as the representative of a larger research group, without whom our findings and presentation simply would not have been possible”, commented Judith after she heard the news.
The last word goes to Steve Bell, Director of Care (North) for the MND Association, UK: “There are so many enthusiastic people who want to share their knowledge and practice with the worldwide MND/ALS community and the depth of study and research that is presented is vast and wide ranging. Judging posters at the Symposium is quite an honour”.