The Symp Awards 2019: Highlights from Perth

The Symp Awards 2019: Highlights from Perth

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On top of all the sharing of research and networking, the International Symposium is a time to celebrate the huge achievements of individuals/teams that contribute to the ALS/MND community. There are too many outstanding and dedicated individuals to mention but some are recognised through several awards. Here we present the awards and the winners of the 30th International Symposium – warmest congratulations to all for their successes.

Allied Health Professional Award – Rachael Marsden

The Allied Health Professional Award is presented by the International Alliance of ALS/MND Associations to recognise an individual committed to providing exceptional care to people with ALS/MND.

Rachael Marsden
Rachael Marsden – 2019 Allied Health Professional Award Winner

The recipient of this year’s award was Rachael Marsden, MND Specialist Nurse and Oxford MND Care Centre Coordinator. Rachel provides a point-of-contact service for patients between clinic visits and facilitates the communication of information between those involved in the care of individuals with MND. This includes her contribution to numerous publications and giving presentations.

Rachael couldn’t be there to receive the award as she is currently attempting a world record with her friend to become the first women to cycle around the world on a tandem bike. They are raising money for MND Association and Oxfam – follow their journey at TandemWOW. Professor Martin Turner accepted the award on behalf of Rachael, who dedicated the award to her mother.

International Alliance Humanitarian Award – Dario Ryba

The International Alliance Humanitarian Award is given annually to recognise someone whose work contributed of international significance to people affected by ALS/MND.

This year the award was presented to Dario Ryba, President of the ALS Association of Argentina. After Dario’s father was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, he founded the first and only Organization for people affected by ALS in Argentina. Through his work and a consequent presence in the mass media, he has become a social reference in the Spanish-speaking world of ALS as well as the current President of UNELA (Union of Latin American ALS/MND Associations).

Dario Ryba – 2019 Humanitarian Award Winner

Paulo Gontijo Award – Dr Laura Ferraiuolo

Established in 2007, the Paulo Gontijo Award recognises young researchers who have dedicated their scientific work to investigate the causes and treatment of MND. The award was judged rigorously by the jury committee of the Paulo Gontijo Institute (IPG), composed of five researchers recognised by the international scientific community.

This year, the 11th PG Award internationally recognised another UK MND scientist – Dr Laura Ferraiuolo, from the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN). Dr Ferraiuolo was awarded for her investigation into the role of astrocyte-secreted extravesicular vesicles as well as her continuous dedication to understand and find a treatment for MND. After receiving the award, she presented the findings of her winning paper. Find out more here.

Laura Ferraiuolo
Marcela Gontijo, IPG President (left), presented Dr Laura Ferraiuolo (right) with the 2019 Paulo Gontigo Award at the 30th International Symposium

Healey Center Award – Team developing the Tofersen ASO therapy

The Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) awarded the first annual Healey Center International Prize for Innovation in ALS/MND at the joint closing session of the Symposium. The award was the first to recognise exceptional achievements for an individual/team in scientific advances in ALS from around the world. This year, it was presented to the team that brought to trial the first antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) therapy, Tofersen, for SOD1-mediated ALS/MND.

Team members include researchers from academia and industry – Timothy Miller, Washington University School of Medicine, Don Cleveland, Ludwig Institute at the University of California at San Diego, Richard Smith, Center of Neurological Study in La Jolla, California, Toby Ferguson, Biogen and Frank Bennett, Ionis Pharmaceuticals.

Toferson team
Sean M. Healey & AMG Center for ALS presented the 2019 Healey Center Award to the team developing the Tofersen therapy (from left to right: Don Cleveland, Richard Smith, Toby Ferguson, Timothy Miller)

Dr Miller then presented the results of the trial that showed SOD1-ASO had outstanding promise in early, small numbers with data that supports ongoing Phase 3 trial (VALOR). If the trial confirms that Tofersen is effective, we will learn that lowering SOD1 is helpful for SOD1 ALS, ALS is a treatable disorder, and that biomarkers (neurofilament) change with effective treatment. Read more on the presented clinical trials session here.

Clinical and Biomedical Poster Prizes

To celebrate the high quality of posters presented by early-career researchers at the International Symposium, the MND Association presents biomedical and clinical poster prizes each year. Dr Brian Dickie, our Head of Research, presented the winners at the joint closing session with a certificate, engraved glass paperweight and a free registration for next year’s Symposium in Montreal, Canada.

Ruben van Eijk – 2019 Clinical Poster Prize Winner

Ruben van Eijk from University Medical Centre Utrecht, Netherlands, won the Clinical poster prize this year for his work on ‘Optimising the ALSFRS-R as a clinical trial endpoint’ (CLT-14). He is the only young researcher to win this award twice – see our blog post on Dublin 2016 poster winners. Ruben demonstrated a great attempt to improve the known drawbacks of the ALSFRS-R tool which could mean treatment effects could be identified faster or with less patients on placebos required for measurement of clinical trial outcomes. You can watch Ruben sum up his poster this year here.

Laura Reale
Laura Reale – 2019 Biomedical Poster Prize Winner

Laura Reale from University of Tasmania, Australia, won one of two Biomedical poster prizes this year for her poster on ‘Does mislocalised TDP-43 in excitatory neurons of the motor cortex cause ALS-like pathology in the spinal cord?’ (IVV-32) with an excellent presentation when only four days into her PhD. In response to receiving the award Laura said, “Receiving this prize has given me confidence for the rest of my PhD to pursue my research question on how MND moves through the brain and spinal cord. Overall I feel inspired to continue working in this field of research and contribute to the vision of a world free of MND. I am pleased to be a part of such a supportive research community.”

Nora Markus poster
Nora Markus – 2019 Biomedical Poster Prize Winner

Nora Markus from University of Sheffield, UK, also won the Biomedical poster prize for her research on ‘AI-led drug discovery identifies Nilotinib as a lead compound for ALS’ (TST-41) with excellent subject knowledge and presentation. After attending her first MND Symposium, Nora said, “Presenting my work to a wide range of audiences, from clinicians to basic scientists, from PhD students to PIs [principal investigators], was especially rewarding as it allowed me to receive very different perspectives on my work and has given me new ideas. Presenting my poster at the conference was an excellent way to receive feedback and discuss my project with the wider MND community.

Find out more about the topics discussed in Perth at the Symposium on our Periodic table of MND Research at

I began working in the research team at the MND Association in August 2019, after graduating from the University of Nottingham with a Masters degree in Biology. My role includes managing the research team's social and digital media, including this blog, and attending & reporting from conferences, such as the International Symposium on ALS/MND. I hope I can continue to engage you with science and communicate updates in MND research in a way that is interesting and understandable.

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