On the third day of Christmas MND research gave to me: Three days of the symposium

“On the third day of Christmas MND research gives to you… THREE days of the 25th International symposium on ALS/MND”

Brussels 2014From 5 – 7 December 2014 the Association held its annual research conference, the 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND. This year, the event was held in Brussels, where just shy of 900 researchers attended to hear the latest MND research news, form new collaborations and hear about the latest developments in care practice.

The three days of the symposium brought you news of a potential new biomarker for MND, the Sheffield Support Snood, induced pluripotent stem cell technology and the latest developments on assistive technology. We brought you 12 LIVE reports from the event, translating the science and highlighting what it means to people living with MND.

Click here to read all our LIVE reports from the symposium

Brussels sprouts poster prize stars

A few days before Christmas, I hope that you’ll forgive the obvious pun. Rather than the small green vegetable that you either love or hate, here I’m talking sprouts of new shoots of talent shown by the winners of the poster prizes. They were chosen from over 300 poster presentations at the International Symposium on ALS/MND held in Brussels at the beginning of December.

It was the second year that poster prizes were a feature of the conference. The purpose of the prize was three-fold: to increase the profile of the poster sessions of the meeting; to recognise the quality of the work presented there and to reward presenters of outstanding work. Read More »

Posters, posters!

During the 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND there were two dedicated sessions for researchers to view over 300 posters. These posters varied from brain imaging to therapeutic strategies. But what is a poster? In this blog I’ll explain more about the session, as well as highlight some of my personal favourites.

Dr Jakub Scaber next to his poster in Brussels
Dr Jakub Scaber next to his poster in Brussels

A biomedical or clinical poster, is in many ways, like an advertising poster. Researchers use colour and text to present their research in a visual way, to engage and discuss their work.

This year’s poster sessions during the symposium were extremely busy, with large crowds often surrounding just one poster and its presenter! The whole room was a real ‘buzz’ of excitement with poster presenters benefitting from the interest and discussion of their work from researchers around the world.

Our Lady Edith Wolfson Clinical Research Fellow, Dr Jakub Scaber (University of Oxford) said: “I didn’t expect such an interest in my work, I ended up being in discussions for well over half an hour – I didn’t even get chance to remove my coat! I really enjoyed the symposium and got to speak to a few more people than I did last year!” Read More »

Is infection making a bad situation worse?

I think Brian Dickie must have planned the early morning slot of the International Symposium in Brussels as a talk that would make delegates sit up and take note. Southampton based Professor Hugh Perry’s presentation certainly made me do that on Sunday morning, the last day of the meeting.

His presentation was on the role of inflammation in neurodegenerative disease. ‘Most of what I’m going to talk about is not about MND’, he commented, ‘but I hope that it will have some resonance for you’. He started off talking about prion disease. In particular he is interested in cells that are called microglia that exist in the brain and spinal cord.

Glial cells

Motor neurones are supported by cells called 'glial cells'
Motor neurones are supported by cells called ‘glial cells’

Perhaps about ten years ago the MND research world found out that it wasn’t just motor neurones we should be paying attention to in MND. There are cells called glial cells that support the function of motor neurones and come in all shapes and sizes in different parts of the brain. The whole set of talks in this session were dedicated to discussing their role in MND. Read More »

SOD1 Stuff

With all the talk of new gene discoveries in recent years, the Sunday morning scientific session returned to the original discovery in 1993 that mutations in the SOD1 gene were responsible for around a fifth of familial (inherited) MND cases and 2-3% of all cases of the disease.

Although much of our understanding of MND in the past two decades comes from SOD1 laboratory models of the disease, we still don’t know exactly how SOD1 kills motor neurons. But that hasn’t stopped several groups from working on a number of innovative ways of protecting motor neurons from SOD1 toxicity. Although focused on a relatively rare form of MND, some of the strategies being followed could potentially also be applicable to other forms of the disease.

sod1 stuctureRead More »

Is MND/FTD the same as FTD alone?

brain Association-funded researcher, Prof Julie Snowden from the University of Manchester was invited to present her research on MND and frontotemporal dementia at this year’s 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND. She is asking whether people living with MND and frontotemporal dementia develop a different form of dementia that is different to those with frontotemporal dementia alone.

In 2011, when researchers discovered the C9orf72 inherited-MND gene, it was also linked to the related neurodegenerative disease frontotemporal dementia (find out more about inherited MND here). This increasingly recognised form of dementia has different signs and symptoms to the more common Alzheimer’s disease, but is less understood.

Researchers are now studying these previously separate diseases together. By working collaboratively with dementia researchers, we are beginning to understand this gene and the link between the two diseases. But what precisely is this link? In the past there were distinct disorders? Prof Snowden answered these questions as thinking of MND and FTD as a spectrum. Read More »

Science behind the picture – cognitive change

Palm Trees and Pyramids representing changes in thinking in MND
Palm Trees and Pyramids representing a test to assess changes in thinking in MND

Why a picture of palm trees and pyramids? The Palm Trees and Pyramids test is the name of a psychology test used to assess whether people with MND have difficulty in remembering and using language.

In this test three pictures are shown in each assessment, one picture at the top and two underneath it. In one test the top picture is of a pyramid, and the bottom two pictures are of a palm tree and an evergreen, deciduous tree. The part of the brain that matches the palm tree with a hot climate – such as the temperatures in Egypt – is the part of the brain that we use for our language skills.

We know that some people with MND experience changes in the way that they think and behave, this can be very subtle things through to a condition called frontotemporal dementia. It is important that we all understand more about these symptoms to support people with MND, their families and carers in the best way we can. For more information and support on these symptoms of MND please see our information sheet on cognitive change.


Gastrostomy in MND: Progress in ProGas

9 bAs well as biomedical research, we fund healthcare research to lead to better symptom management and support for people living with MND. On the final day of the symposium, Dr Stavroulakis from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), presented results on his Association-funded research. 

In some people living with MND, the muscles involved in chewing and swallowing can become slow, weak and/or uncoordinated. This can cause difficulty when eating and drinking. Read More »

The causes of MND – what about head injury?

6 bHead injury has been a hot topic in the media in relation to MND. I also receive a number of enquiries from people living with MND asking about the causes of MND, and whether past head injury may influence this? This very topic was discussed in the epidemiology session on the second day of the 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND.

We know that the majority of cases of MND are caused by a combination of subtle genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. We have identified some of the genetic factors involved; however the environmental and lifestyle factors remain somewhat elusive. Read More »