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.
PhD student Matthew Williamson is continuing this research, investigating the protective role of Oxr1 in more detail. This three year project (our reference: 869-792), which costs £95,000, is in its second year and has already produced some valuable results:
- A secret Oxr1 gene switch discovered
By studying the natural function of the Oxr1 gene in living cells in the lab, Matthew and the team have discovered a specific part of the gene that acts like a trigger or a switch, and turns on Oxr1 activity. With this knowledge, they want to develop drugs that can flick this switch on, and boost our natural Oxr1 levels.
- Decreased Oxr1 leads to motor neurone damage
In parallel studies, the team are conducting tests to show the biological effects of Oxr1 in mouse models of MND. Mice with no Oxr1 are beginning to show some problems in movement and co-ordination, which suggests that a lack of Oxr1 leaves motor neurones more susceptible to damage.
- Increased Oxr1 might protect motor neurones
The team are investigating if they can protect the motor neurones by increasing the amount of Oxr1 in a new mouse model of MND. They hope to show that as the mice get older, this will delay the onset of movement problems, and could therefore be a viable therapy route for MND.
For more information on funding research involving animals please see our website: www.mndassociation.org/animalresearch
Throughout June 2016 MND Awareness Month will be highlighting the rapid progression of the disease in its powerful Shortened Stories campaign, sharing the experiences of people currently living with MND, or who have lost loved ones to the disease, through art, poetry and film.