AMBRoSIA – our biggest ever research project

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The AMBRoSIA (A Multicentre Biomarker Resource Strategy In ALS) project is our biggest, most ambitious research undertaking to date. The project funding began in August, closely followed by being the focus of this month’s ‘Make Your Mark’ fundraising appeal. Here we explain more about what this flagship project is all about.

This new five year research project, costing in excess of £2 million, will search for biomarkers of MND on larger scale than ever before. It will leave a legacy resource to improve diagnosis and our understanding of MND for the future.

AMBRoSIA will be nested in three world-class research centres in Oxford, London and Sheffield, and will be led by three of the UK’s top MND researchers – Prof Martin Turner (Oxford), Dr Andrea Malaspina (London) and Prof Dame Pamela Shaw (Sheffield).

Why do we need biomarkers?
A biomarker is a ‘fingerprint’ of MND – something that can be measured in the body that is unique to MND. Biomarker discovery would mean a faster diagnosis and a better understanding of the disease, which will lead to bespoke, effective treatments. You can read more about why biomarkers are so important in a previous blog.

The collection of good quality samples, from the same people over time, is at the heart of biomarker research – and that’s what AMBRoSIA is all about.

Who can take part?
AMBRoSIA will recruit 900 people with MND to take part. In addition, 450 people without the disease will also be recruited, for comparison (this is known as a control group). The control group will consist of 135 first-degree relatives of people with MND (a parent, sibling or child), and 315 people with no family link to the disease.

What samples will be collected?
Participants will donate blood, skin and urine samples on a regular basis. Where possible, cerebrospinal fluid will also be collected.

In total, it is expected that AMBRoSIA will collect over 250,000 samples across the five years of the project.

What will the samples be used for?
The samples collected will be stored across the three sites and will undergo a series of tests to search for biomarkers of MND. In addition, the skin cells will be used to create motor neurones using ground-breaking stem cell (iPSC) technology. You can find out more about iPSC technology on our website. Motor neurones created using iPSC technology will be used to screen potential new drugs.

Ultimately, the samples will form a new large-scale biomarker testing resource, which will be used to for future research.

How will the samples be analysed?
The lead researchers were all involved in the development of international consensus guidelines for the collection, processing and storage of samples of the highest possible quality. These guidelines will be used in the sample analysis for AMBRoSIA.

All the samples need to be processed using the same 'recipe'.
All the samples need to be processed using the same ‘recipe’.

The TV programme the Great British Bake Off illustrates the importance of developing guidelines for sample processing. Those of you familiar with the programme will know that even though the contestants may be given exactly the same recipe, their cake creations may turn out very differently! The researchers want the same results from using their ‘recipes’ in every centre!

What happens now?
The project is now in the crucial set-up phase. This includes setting up the structure of AMBRoSIA and its governing system, recruiting the scientists to work at each centre, and gaining the ethical approval needed to undertake the study. A Steering Committee is being formed, which will oversee the running of the project. This will comprise of research leaders, representatives from the MND Association and people living with MND.

How can I get involved?
As the study is still being set up, the researchers aren’t collecting samples yet. However, if you have MND you can let us know that you are interested in taking part by joining our research list.

When the researchers are ready to start collecting samples we will send out a letter to everyone on this list, explaining what to do next. There’s more information on the research list on our website. Please email us on our email address if you would like to be added.

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