MND and the mind – who is affected?

Motor Neurone Disease (MND), as the name suggests, is known as a disease of motor neurons, a specific type of neurons that co-ordinate our voluntary movement, leading to loss of the ability to move, speak and breathe. And perhaps because the main focus often falls on the rapidly-progressing physical symptoms and their management, the way MND affects the mind has often be overlooked.

brain networkMost literature on MND states that certain behavioural and cognitive (thinking) problems affect up to 50% people with MND, out of which 15% have a co-occurring diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Adding to this, a recent paper by Dr Christopher Crockford and colleagues, published in the journal Neurology, found that up to 80% of people living with MND will have some form of cognitive or behavioural impairment by the final stage of their disease (or in other words, only 20% will have an intact cognitive and behavioural processing).Read More »

Physical activity and the odds of developing MND

Physical activity has always been at the forefront of factors associated with MND, but studies investigating its effect have often been conflicting. The reason why we might see contrasting results is often due to different cohorts and numbers of people included in the study, the method by which the data was collected, or the types of questions asked and the way they were presented. Increased number of studies on the same topic might then improve the way these are conducted in the future and provide more reliable conclusions.

The most recent multi-centre study that included over 1,500 people with MND and nearly 3,000 control participants was conducted by the Euro-MOTOR consortium under the leadership of Prof Leonard van den Berg. Today (24 April), the group published a paper on their findings in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry . The study collected data using thorough questionnaires, presented to Dutch, Irish and Italian participants either face-to-face or on paper, asking about their exposure to smoking, alcohol, and the type and amount of physical activity throughout their lifetime – both occupational and leisure. A score was then assigned to each person based on the amount of energy expenditure each activity requires – this is called metabolic equivalent of task (MET).Read More »

Stuck in FUS – the story of arginines, MND and FTD

In recent news, a number of press releases highlighted a paper published in the journal Cell, in which scientists, under the leadership of the University of Toronto’s Professor Peter St George-Hyslop, and in collaboration with University of Cambridge, described the process of how the FUS protein leads to the development of motor neurone disease (MND) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

MND and FTD – what is the connection?

We know that there is a link between MND and FTD, which in most part is caused by a mutation in the C9ORF72 gene, causing familial MND in around 35% cases and FTD in 25% of cases. Mistakes in the gene disrupt normal processes leading to toxic accumulation of TDP-43 protein in the neurons, and their subsequent death. There is however another protein toxic to neurons which results in the development of MND and FTD – the one that makes it slightly easier for us science writers to come up with witty titles: FUS (see one of our previous articles ‘What’s the FUS all about’).Read More »

Lessons learnt in the past year…update on clinical trials

Looking for a treatment for MND is the ultimate goal of the whole MND community. Unfortunately, as MND is a very complicated disease, it is not as easy as it may sound. Setting aside the sheer cost of running trials, researchers have to look at all the possible causes of MND (the genes, lifestyle and environment) and then target these with specific compounds and hoping that this strategy won’t be halted by a different biological process. This is made even harder by the large number of possible combinations of these causative factors and the many different ways these can interact.

Thankfully, lots of research groups across the world are doing their best to tackle the adverse disease mechanisms, which is why we heard lots of results of early as well as late stage clinical trials, new strategies to design better treatments in the future, and lessons learnt from previous studies.

While there was much more to hear and read at the Symposium, here we summarise the Clinical trials session (4B), where five presenters reported results and analyses of the treatments they have been investigating.Read More »

‘There is an app for that’ – the wonders of technology in ALS

At the end of a very busy Day 2 of the Symposium, I sat down with my colleagues for a quick chat. After a while, one of them, who has been with the Association since 1995 told us how someone once asked him: ‘So if you look at the last 20 years, how has the world progressed to know more about MND, since there is still no cure to halt it?’. ‘Technology!’, he replied without hesitation. (Alright, he is a tech guy by occupation, so his opinion might be a bit biased, but he still proves the point I am trying to make).

Technology in the world of research has progressed incredibly far. From the ability to sequence the whole genome of a person in a fraction of the time (and price) that we were able to do a decade ago, to using delicate electrodes and sensors to explore what is happening inside our bodies.Read More »

It’s that time of the year again… #alssymp

It was only one week after the 27th International Symposium on ALS/MND in Dublin had ended when we started the next stage of planning for Boston 2017. Now a year has passed and we are here again, waiting to learn about the exciting research that is happening throughout the world. But before we start talking science to you, I thought I would give you a whistle-stop tour of what it takes to organise the Symposium.

It all starts with a selection of a venue at least three years prior the event. This has to tick a number of boxes, including appropriate number and size of rooms for platform and poster presentations, a place for exhibitors, lunch, ease of access both inside the venue as well as outside with respect to the location from transport facilities and so on. A number of site visits are organised to ensure that we are familiar with the venue so that we can plan the location of the platform sessions, locations for exhibitors, lunch, meetings, and networking. And then the year of the event comes…Read More »

Tirasemtiv not found effective for treatment of MND

In their official press release published on 21 November 2017, Cytokinetics Inc. announced that they will not be continuing work on tirasemtiv after disappointing results in the latest Phase 3 clinical trial. The trial, known under the acronym ‘VITALITY-ALS’, tested whether the drug has a beneficial effect on the breathing function and muscle strength of people with MND. This is very unfortunate news for everyone affected by the disease, however, Cytokinetics are already testing another compound with the hope that this will be more effective and better tolerated than tirasemtiv.

Tirasemtiv is a drug that aims to improve quality of life of people living with MND by increasing strength of their skeletal muscles (controlling body motion and posture) and therefore postponing muscle fatigue. It compensates for the missing nerve signal from a motor neurone to a muscle that instructs it to contract. Tirasemtiv activates a protein called troponin by increasing its sensitivity to calcium, which is crucial for muscle contraction.Read More »

Networking to progress in the world of science: Mini-Symposium on MND

Conferences and symposia are a crucial part of the research world – not only for the amount of knowledge that is communicated to large audiences but also for the exchange of ideas on a more inter-personal level. Novel ideas are created there as well establishment of collaborations that might lead to new research projects and clinical trials – all in all, putting a bunch of researchers in a venue with a projector, coffee and biscuits can only lead to good things!

One of the recent events that I had the pleasure to attend was a small-scale conference – the Mini-Symposium on generic disease mechanisms in MND and other neurodegenerative disorders. Held at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in late June, this event was a precursor to the inauguration of a new MND Care and Research Centre for Sussex, directed by Prof Nigel Leigh.Read More »

Shining a light on our non-clinical fellow: Using blue light to control muscle movement

The MND Association is proud to support the brightest minds of MND research. Outside of general healthcare and biomedical project grants that are usually awarded to senior researchers, we also offer opportunities to young researchers – these take the form of PhD studentships and fellowships.

Fellowships are awarded to post-doctoral researchers who are able to support a research project as the leading investigator. Depending on their qualifications, the fellowship can either be clinical (for healthcare professionals) or non-clinical (for researchers with purely academic background). In the last round of non-clinical fellowship applications in October 2016, the MND Association awarded a senior fellowship to Dr Barney Bryson of University College London. In his upcoming project, due to start in August 2017, he will follow up on the findings he found together with his team, led by Prof Linda Greensmith.Read More »

Life of an MND researcher – part 2: PhD edition

Each year, the MND Association dedicates the month of June to raising MND awareness. This year, we focus on the eyes – in most people with MND the only part of their body they can still move and the only way left for them to communicate. Alongside the Association-wide campaign, the Research Development team selected six most-enquired about topics, which we will address through six dedicated blogs.

In our previous article we introduced four MND researchers who gave us an insight what a typical day in the life of a researcher looks like and what carrying out a research study actually involves. In this continuation article, you will get the chance to look into the lives of four PhD students, who give us an overview of their projects and their usual daily duties.Read More »