As I settle into my role as the Research Programmes and Partnerships Manager with the MND Association, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself to you all and share with you what my role will entail.
My background is mainly in genetic laboratories (even having the opportunity to extract and test DNA from ancient Egyptian Mummies), although I have worked in a tissue typing laboratory (to make sure that the recipient of a donated organ and the donor matched to avoid the chance of the organ being rejected) as well as a Phase I clinical trials laboratory. Immediately prior to starting with the MND Association, I worked as a Senior Scientific Project Manager for one of the UK’s largest biorepositories, responsible for setting up studies, and collection, processing, storage and shipping of samples.
Even though my CV appears to be very mixed and varied I feel that my slightly unique career path has given me a very wide range of experiences and key skills that I can utilise for the MND Association.
The position of Research Programmes and Partnerships Manager is new to the Association and will enable a number of the larger projects that we fund, such as AMBRoSIA and Project MinE to fall under my umbrella. In addition to this, I will be taking over the management of the UK MND Collections (formerly known as DNA Bank) and representing the Association on the MND Register.
An area that will be quite new to me, but will be key to the role of the Research Programmes and Partnership Manager, will be looking at translational medicine. Recently, our understanding of the possible causes of MND have thrown up some potentially interesting new targets for further investigation and possible sites for drug interaction. Moving towards translational medicine means that we are able to begin to translate these results we have from ‘the bench’ closer to being a treatment to be used at ‘the bedside’. This enables us to see whether these exciting new regions of interest could be targeted by drugs to stop the progress of the disease. As a result of a move towards translational medicine, the Association would become more involved with funding and co-funding clinical trials that are testing any new potential drugs to see whether they are viable treatments for people living with MND.
As the focus of the Association moves to encompass more clinical trials of drugs, we also need to consider the growing field of drug re-purposing. This is where a drug that is currently being used for an unrelated disease (such as bipolar disorder) targets the same regions that we are interested in looking at within MND. As the drug is currently being used to treat another disease, there would be no need for the pre-clinical safety and efficacy testing to ensure it is not toxic and harmful (meaning we would be able to get to the actual clinical trial stage much quicker than normal). A recent example of this are the clinical trials in people with MND of the drug Lithium Carbonate, used to treat bipolar disorder. Recent re-analysis of the data showed that whilst this treatment would not be effective for all people with MND, it looks like it could be beneficial for a subset of people with a particular genetic mutation.
We are embarking on exciting times with our understanding of the causes of MND ever growing and the potential for new treatment possibilities increasing. I am excited and honoured to have joined the Association at this pivotal time and I am looking forward to being part of the journey to find a cure for MND.