Highlights from the poster sessions at the 34th International Symposium

Highlights from the poster sessions at the 34th International Symposium

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Each year we host the International Symposium on ALS/MND in December and this is the largest medical and scientific conference specific to MND. The 34th Symposium was held in Basel, Switzerland from the 6th to 8th December and over 1300 people attended from over 48 different countries to share the latest MND research updates, connect with others and generate new ideas for research.

Scientists, healthcare professionals and people with and affected by MND come to the Symposium from all over the world to present their work in different ways. Plenary speakers are experts in their field who are invited to give talks on specialist topics. This year we had 14 plenary speakers talking about MND and 13 plenary speakers looking at the connections between MND and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD). You can read our blogs on these talks here. As well as the invited plenary speakers, some researchers apply to give a talk at the event and this year we had over 95 researchers presenting their work on the platform through an ‘oral’ talk.

One of the main ways in which most of the research is shared with others is through poster presentations. This is where researchers produce posters outlining the details of their projects (for example the methods, results and conclusions) which are displayed for people to walk round and read. The researchers stand by their posters to talk through their work with others who are interested and answer any questions they may have. This is a great way for researchers to present the progress they’ve made so far and chat to others working in similar areas of MND. Watch the video to see a small snapshot of our poster hall this year and find out what the posters look like.

This year, we had almost 400 posters presented across two sessions and these covered a huge variety of different research topics. The posters were split into themes based on the type of research being presented and these ranged from Genetics, Cell biology and Biomarkers to Cognitive and Psychological support, Clinical management and Clinical trials. We also had some people present posters on research that is a ‘work in progress’ which doesn’t have any results yet but allows the researchers to share methods and progress of the work so far. This year over 24 researchers presented posters on work supported by the MND Association.

Read on to find out more about some of the posters presented at the sessions.

Dr Ben Clarke

A photo of Ben Clarke standing next to his poster

Dr Ben Clarke from the Francis Crick Institute shared his work on investigating the behaviour of microglia in MND. Microglia are a type of immune cell found in the brain that respond to infections and damage. In MND, these microglia can become faulty and may contribute to the progression of the disease.

Dr Clarke has looked into how the behaviour of the microglia change in MND and how these changes may affect the surrounding motor neurons. He used cell models of MND to study this in the lab and found that microglia with a change in a gene called VCP showed characteristics of an immune response. This immune response led to changes in the activity of genes within the microglia. The abnormal behaviour of the microglia was also found to effect the surrounding motor neurons and other cells. The study has helped to identify some genes that may play a role in the behaviour changes of microglia in MND.

Dr Eleanor Wilson

Dr Eleanor Wilson from the University of Nottingham has been looking into the impact of ventilation care on carers and family members of people with MND. There is currently little information known about the effects on carers of managing and maintaining ventilation for people with MND at home.

A photo of Eleanor Wilson standing by her poster

Dr Wilson presented a poster on her work to find out more about the impact and support available to people in this situation through an interview study. This involved interviewing 36 family members involved in the care of someone with MND using ventilation. These interviews provided information about people’s experiences and helped to identify that carers and family members felt hugely responsible providing correct ventilation care at home. It was also found that the weight of this responsibility affected their mental and physical wellbeing. The study has helped to show that family members and carers may benefit from more training and support from healthcare professionals with managing ventilation care at home. This support and guidance could help to reduce the sense of responsibility and improve wellbeing for carers and family members who are providing this care for people with MND.

Dr Rick Nelms

Dr Rick Nelms is a biologist and educator who attended this year’s Symposium as a patient fellow. The patient fellows programme gives people with MND from around the world the opportunity to attend the international symposium. They can connect with scientists, healthcare professionals and other people with the disease and hear about the research happening across the globe. This year, there were 19 patient fellows who attended either in-person or online.

As well as being a patient fellow, Dr Nelms presented a poster on his work to produce and evaluate artworks which support lay summaries of publications written by researchers at the University of Sheffield. The artworks are designed to enhance the public understanding of the ‘readable research’ summaries. His poster shared some examples of the artwork that has been produced so far and discussed the best ways to evaluate and improve the content of the artworks to ensure they are effective in aiding understanding of the research summaries for non-scientists.  

Professor Paul Norman

Professor Paul Norman from the University of Sheffield presented a poster to share his work on developing an online tool, called OptiCALS, to help support people with MND to increase their calorie intake.

A photo of Paul Norman standing by his poster

Previous research has shown that weight loss and malnutrition might be associated with increased disability and shortened survival in MND. It has been suggested that increasing calorie intake for people with MND may help to improve their quality of life and survival. 

Professor Norman’s poster detailed the stages involved in developing and testing the OptiCALS tool. This included focus groups and interviews with people with MND, carers and healthcare professionals to understand current nutritional support for people with MND and identify content for the new tool. The OptiCALS tool was found to target current challenges in calorie intake in MND and provide solutions to overcome them, for example setting goals and monitoring progress. The tool is designed to be tailored to each individual with the disease and offer a personalised approach to diet.

The tool is now being tested further in a trial to determine whether OptiCALS, and having an individualised calorie target, may offer some benefit in function, survival and quality of life for people with MND.

It’s been nice how we’ve been put together so all the people working on nutrition are in the same area. We can read each other’s posters and I’ve had lots of interesting conversations about the work we’re doing, but also about the work they’re doing, and making some really good connections.

Professor Norman, University of Sheffield

Poster Prizes

Early career researchers who present a poster at the Symposium can enter to win the International Symposium on ALS/MND biomedical and clinical poster prizes. To be considered for these poster prizes, the researchers must be aged 35 and under or within three years of completing their PhD. The summaries of those who enter are reviewed before the Symposium to create a short-list of possible winners and final judging takes place at the event by an international panel of senior researchers. The poster prizes are important in raising the profiles of the winner’s research and help to showcase the high-quality posters that are presented each year.

The winners of each prize are announced at the closing session of the Symposium and they receive a certificate, an engraved crystal paperweight and a free registration for next year’s event. This year, there were three winners and two runners up for both the biomedical and clinical prizes.

Biomedical poster prize


Björn Vahsen, University of Oxford, Marianne King, University of Sheffield and Christen Chisholm, University of Wollongong

Highly Commended

Dr Zsofia Laszlo, University of Dundee and Dr Rita Mejzini, Murdoch University

Clinical poster prize


David Schneck, University of Minnesota, Dr David Lester, University of Oxford and Dr Annekathrin Roediger, University of Jena

Highly Commended

Sally Neville, University of Queensland and Dr Charilaos Chourpiliadis, Karolinska Institute

We would like to congratulate everyone who made the poster-prize shortlist and, of course, this year’s winners and runners up too! We’d also like to thank the programme committee and the judging panel for helping us to choose the shortlist and winners.

Some of this year’s highly commended presenters and poster prize winners on stage at the closing session of the Symposium.

We were delighted to be able to deliver the poster sessions in-person again this year. The energy and buzz in the poster hall are unmatched online and it was great to see so many delegates networking and hear some of the discussions about the research. Poster sessions are vital for giving researchers a chance to present their work to smaller groups of people, forming new connections and collaborations and discussing ways to move the science forward.

It’s so important to see the research that everyone else is doing, especially with the posters. You don’t normally get to see the progress of people’s projects unless they’re doing a talk, but it’s great to see all the little bits of science that are building up to the bigger picture.

Charlotte Gale, University of Sheffield

Thank you to everyone who came to the 34th International Symposium on ALS/MND and presented a poster. The atmosphere in the poster hall wouldn’t have been the same without the huge number of people that shared their work throughout these sessions. And a big thank you to Novartis who sponsored this year’s poster sessions.

I work in the Research Development team at the MND Association as a Research Co-ordinator. I completed my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science and I became very interested in neuroscience throughout my degree. Following on from this, I did a Master’s degree in Molecular Medicine, with a focus on gene therapies. As part of my role, I will be helping the Research Development team to identify interesting updates in MND research and communicate these via the blog in an understandable and engaging way.