I firmly believe that the quality of research is only as good as the researcher doing it, which is why the MND Association places a lot of emphasis on providing opportunities to attract, train and retain the brightest and best investigators in the UK and Ireland to develop their careers in MND research. These range from our ‘entry level’ PhD Studentships through to our successful Clinical Fellowships (funded jointly with MRC) and our more recent Non-Clinical Fellowship programme, offering opportunities to outstanding young researchers at a variety of career stages.
It’s also one of the reasons why the Paulo Gontijo International Medicine prize, presented at the Symposium Opening Session, is always an early highlight for me. I’ve had the privilege of serving on the International Judging Committee for the award since it was first linked with the Symposium in 2011, with a focus on acknowledging outstanding work by young researchers under the age of 40. It’s a tough job selecting the winner, the quality of the research is such a high standard and the applicants’ CVs are incredibly impressive, with many already internationally recognised figures in the MND research world.
This year’s prize was presented to Dr Edor Kabashi of the ICM Brain & Spine Institute, Paris, for his research into developing new laboratory models of MND in order to identify shared mechanisms of degeneration. Understanding the common processes that go wrong in degenerating motor neurons, no matter the original cause of the disease, will provide opportunities to develop treatments that could be effective in all forms of the disease.
Each year, the prize winner is invited to give a presentation on their research. Dr Kabashi focused on his team’s work on developing cell culture and zebrafish models which carry human MND-causing genes. Using these approaches, he has been able to demonstrate that disruption of a cellular process known as autophagy is a common consequence of the disease. By co-incidence, Dr Kabashi’s award comes in the same year as the Nobel Prize for Medicine has been awarded to Prof Yoshinori Ohsumi for his groundbreaking work into the mechanisms of autophagy.
Dr Kabashi and his team have also demonstrated that different causes and risk factors for MND can interact to cause a ‘double-hit’ on the autophagy process, leading to much more severe damage.
“It is truly a great honour to receive this award” said Dr Kabashi. “These innovative zebrafish models we are developing in the lab are allowing my team to identify shared pathogenic mechanisms in motor neuron diseases, with great potential to identify therapeutic strategies to halt neurodegenerative processes, in order to properly treat ALS/MND”