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tiRNA: A Newcomer in Motor Neuron Disease

tiRNA: A Newcomer in Motor Neuron Disease

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Guest researcher blog post written by Elisabeth Jirström:

Elisabeth Jirstrom photo

Hi! My name is Elisabeth Jirström and I am a PhD student at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological Diseases.

My passion for neuroscience, and MND research in particular, came about during my studies in the biotechnology engineering programme at Lund University in Sweden. I was then very fortunate to perform my master’s project at the biotech company Genentech in San Francisco, where I worked in a team focused on developing biomarkers to support an ongoing MND clinical trial. This experience made me much aware of the acute lack of biomarkers and therapeutics for motor neurodegeneration but also of how MND research is advancing at a fast pace, which motivated me to pursue a career in this field.

Shortly after completing my master’s degree, I moved to Dublin and began my PhD studies in the MND team led by Professor Jochen Prehn at RCSI.

My research focuses on the role of tiRNAs in MND. tiRNAs are a newly discovered class of small RNA molecules that regulate many important biological processes within nerve cells, and impaired tiRNA production is linked to neurodegeneration in MND. Thus, tiRNAs could provide new insights into MND and may serve as novel therapeutic targets. My project investigates the disease-specific “fingerprint” of tiRNAs in new cell models of MND and their potential as novel disease markers and therapeutics for MND.

Elisabeth Jirstrom neuron photo

I spend most of my days in the laboratory, where I grow neurons for use in various experiments involving tiRNAs and use advanced cell imaging and sequencing techniques to study their effects on the molecular level.

The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely impacted my research and put some experiments on hold, but it has also provided a great opportunity to dig deeper into my generated data as well as into the work of others. Recently, I have been able to return to the lab to continue my experiments, albeit with some added restrictions and social distancing guidelines.  Despite the current challenges, our research will press on, and like the remarkable neuroscientist Rita Levi-Montalcini put it:

“Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.” 


We’d like to thank Elisabeth for getting in touch with us to share the work that she is doing during this challenging time for research.

The MND Association’s vision is a world free from MND. Realising this vision means investing more in research, further developing partnerships with the research community, funding bodies and industry, while ensuring that advances in understanding and treating MND are communicated as quickly and effectively as possible. Our Research Development team, composed of 11 members, work hard to achieve this. Principally, the Research Information team within this are involved in communication activities including this MND Research blog.

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