Developing the Biomarkers in Oxford Project

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Biomarkers in Oxford (BioMOx) is a research project with the aim of identifying a diagnostic biomarker for MND, which could be used to track the progression of this condition.

What are biomarkers?

The aim is to identify biomarkers, or ‘biological fingerprints’ for MND. This could be through testing blood and spinal fluid (CSF) samples from people with MND, or using MRI scans and other imaging techniques to look at changes in the brain.

By understanding the very earliest changes detected in these samples at the start of MND (the biomarker), it is hoped that they could be used to work towards disease prevention and to develop more targeted therapy for those already affected by MND.

For example, including a biomarker element in future clinical trials will help us learn more about the disease and identify participants most likely to benefit from the drug being tested.

Being able to track the progression of the disease could also help with effective care-planning for people with MND.

What has BioMOx found so far?

2013 martin turner image
Prof Martin Turner, University of Oxford

The BioMOx research project began in 2009 and is being led by Professor Martin Turner from the University of Oxford. Prof Turner is one of our MND Association/MRC Lady Edith Wolfson Clinical Research Fellows (our reference: 944-795).

Part one of the project, carried out between 2009-2013 and funded by ourselves, involved studying over 70 people with MND, together with a similar number of healthy volunteers, every six months over the course of two years.

Advanced MRI brain scans and analysis of spinal fluid and blood taken from participants have revealed several biomarker candidates.

In collaboration with Dr Andrea Malaspina’s biomarker programme at Queen Mary’s University London (featured in tomorrow’s blog post), BioMOx helped to confirm neurofilaments as a leading biomarker for MND.

The BioMOx project has also increased our understanding of the effects of MND on brain structure and function over time. This helps to improve knowledge of the mechanisms underlying MND, as well as providing an additional method to monitor disease activity in response to new medications.

This second part of this project is studying the earliest changes in patients before the onset of symptoms. To do this they are looking at people who are at risk of developing inherited MND, particularly in those with the C9orf72 gene mutation. If you are interested in taking part in this stage of the project, visit our website.

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.