Driving MND Research through our PhD studentships

Driving MND Research through our PhD studentships

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What MND Association funding means to researchers – our PhD students

Each year, MND Associations across the globe mark 21 June as a special day of recognition, acknowledging the impact that MND has on people around the world. MND is a global problem. It does not discriminate, and for every person diagnosed the effects of the disease will be forever felt by their families and friends.

In this week-long series of blogs, in acknowledgement of the work carried out by researchers and the support given by the wider MND community, and to mark Global MND Awareness Day, we will be taking a closer look at some of the research funded by the MND Association and how this is #DrivingMNDResearch.

As of 31 May 2021, the Association is funding 14 PhD studentships that come to a value of £1.2 million. Through our successful PhD studentship programme, we have a track record of attracting and funding promising young scientists to develop their careers in MND research. In this first blog, we will be talking about the important work being carried out by three MND Association-funded PhD students, and what this opportunity means to them.

Meet our PhD students

Erin Hodges is from King’s College London and is using stem cells to generate and study neuronal cells carrying a specific mistake in the ANXA11 gene, which has only been recently identified as a cause of some cases of inherited MND.

When asked about how the PhD Studentship has helped her, Erin said:

“The MND Association PhD Studentship has allowed me to learn and develop important research techniques, and to establish a specialist skill set that will be pivotal in the ongoing fight against MND”.

Sophie Foggin is part of a team at the University of Nottingham who is looking at how disturbances in the cell’s waste disposal system, known as autophagy, might contribute to MND.

The team will look at the interplay of disturbances in microRNA and dysfunction of the cells’ waste disposal system and investigate how these two adverse processes together contribute to the death of motor neurons. The team will transform skin cells from people with MND with TDP-43 gene mutation into motor neurons and observe which microRNAs are critical in neuronal death, and if these have a negative impact on other MND-related genes implicated in autophagy.This project is highly relevant to MND research and, through its completion, has the potential to uncover a new cause of MND which could lay the groundwork for the development of new treatments for people affected by the disease. Sophie said:

“My MND Association funded PhD has enabled my development into a dynamic and independent research and fuelled by desire to pursue a career in cutting edge science”.

Lyndsay Didcote is also from King’s College London and is involved in a study that is testing whether different screening tools detect similar rates of cognitive change in the same people with MND.

Assessment of changes in thinking and behaviour in people with MND is done using screening tools which offer a fast evaluation in the clinic. Due to the variety of tests available, and their different rules and criteria, various conclusions might be drawn from the different tests, potentially leading to people with MND being offered inadequate care. This project will compare three screening tools and see how the differ in terms of diagnosing behavioural and cognitive change in people with MND. Findings from this project will inform clinicians and researchers about the implications of using different measures and ensure that people with MND receive the appropriate care pathway for their disease. Talking about her work, Lyndsay said:

“The MND Association’s studentship has given me the opportunity to investigate and draw attention to the way cognitive and behavioural change is assessed in people with MND”.

Lyndsay and her team are currently looking for people with and without MND to take part in this study. You will be asked to take part in a series of computerised questionnaires and puzzle-like tests, which will take about two hours although this can be split into shorter sessions, with generous breaks. Participation is via video call apps so you can take part from home.

Five decades of research

The Association’s commitment to understanding MND and the relentless search for treatments is now in its fifth decade. We will not stop until we have reached our vision – a world free from MND.

How can you get involved?

You can help us increase awareness of MND research by sharing any of the Association messages which will be posted across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using the hashtag #DrivingMNDResearch. Please share your involvement with the MND Association and the invaluable part you play in #DrivingMNDResearch.

You can also:

For more information and to download our #GlobalMNDAwarenessDay graphic to use, head to our website.

The MND Community is a passionate, dedicated and focused team of people contributing expertise, time and money to the collaborative effort to find treatments and ultimately a cure for this brutal disease.

We are proud to work with every one of you and thank you for your continued support.

Read more about the research we fund on our website

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.