New gene therapy targeting C9orf72-ALS begins Phase 1 clinical trial in the UK

This article was written by Dr Keith Mayl and Dr Ahmad Al Khleifat of King’s College London.

Researchers at King’s College Hospital, led by Professor Christopher Shaw, have embarked on the first gene therapy clinical trial for patients affected by a specific genetic form of ALS, the most common type of MND.

ALS is a progressive disease in which the nerves controlling muscle movement, known as motor neurons, degenerate resulting in muscle wasting and weakness. In about 10% of people the cause is a mutation in the C9orf72 gene. This mutation results in the formation of toxic products which are harmful to motor neurons. People with the mutation typically develop symptoms in their 50s, starting with speech and swallowing problems, followed by weakness of the arms, legs and breathing. It is also linked to problems with language and behaviour and is the most common genetic cause of frontotemporal dementia.Read More »

Why do we need the MND Register?

Whilst we believe that there are currently around 5,000 adults in the UK living with MND at any one time, the precise figure is not known as there is no single source of information to confirm it. The MND Register of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is set to find a more accurate figure of the true number of people living with the disease. This research study, funded by the MND Association with the support of The Betty Messenger Charitable Foundation and a family trust that wishes to remain anonymous, is jointly led by Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi at King’s College London and Professor Kevin Talbot at the University of Oxford.

Despite our increasing knowledge of the role that genetics plays in MND, there is strong evidence to suggest that MND is a complex disease that is triggered by a combination of genetic predisposition to the disease and exposure to external environmental influences such as occupational and lifestyle factors.Read More »

Steps to understanding MND

Love them or loath them, the band Steps’ first single ‘5,6,7,8’ was a techno line dance song released in 1998 from their debut album ‘step one’, with the B side ‘words of wisdom’.

Using this forced and purely tenuous link and an equally awkward segue, I would like to share with you the news that the journal Neurology this week published further words of wisdom from Professor Adriano Chio, Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi and colleagues, that revisits the multistep hypothesis of MND. Their previous work showed that when no genetic cause is considered, developing MND is a six-step process. In their most recent work, the team investigated how many of the steps does a genetic mutation account for in this multistep process, with a focus on the most common MND causative genes SOD1, TARDBP, and C9ORF72.Read More »

New ALS review article available

ammar2.jpgLast week, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a review article by Professors Ammar Al-Chalabi and Robert Brown, in which they looked at the up to date evidence on the incidence of ALS, pathological mechanisms of the disease, as well as genetics and therapeutic strategies.

We would very much like to thank the NEJM who kindly allowed us to share full text of this article on our website – this is now available to view here.

Epi Epi Epi, Oi Oi Oi

Mention the word Epidemiology and instantly my mind conjures up the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in America being swarmed by zombies or men in bright orange astronaut-type suits in The Crazies.  While it’s true that it includes studying highly infectious diseases and how they spread (zombies and end of world scenarios aside!), it can be applied to any disease.

Having spent much of my time in the last year working on the data that was collected from our recent epidemiology study, I was keen to shout about the fact that the data is now ready for researchers to use. The analysis of this data will add great value to samples that we already have in our DNA Bank.

What is Epidemiology?

Read More »

New genetic discoveries tell us more about what causes MND – Part 1

Today some exciting news about the genetics of MND was published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics. The results come in two research papers published in the same issue of the journal.

This blog post discusses the results of the first of these papers for which King’s College London based Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi was one of the leading researchers. A post on the second paper will follow later.

Here we’ve given an overview of what the researchers have found, what it means for people with MND and how the analysis was conducted. You can read a more detailed explanation of the research results from the King’s press release.Read More »

The MND Register of England, Wales and Northern Ireland

What is the MND Register?

The MND Register is a major five year project that aims to collect and store information about every person living with MND in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is led by world-class MND researchers Prof Ammar Al-Chalabi and Prof Kevin Talbot, at a cost of £400,500 (our grant reference: 926-794).

Why is it important?

MND is believed to affect 5,000 people in the UK at any one time, however the true figure is not known as there is currently no way of recording this information. The register aims to provide us with the true number of people living with MND in the UK.

The information collected will answer questions about how many people have MND in different areas, how the condition progresses, and how the disease can affect people. The register will connect people with MND to researchers, including those conducting clinical trials, and will provide valuable information to guide the future development of care services.

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How will information be collected and used?

The register will be advertised nationally to all people with MND and related healthcare professionals. People with MND will be provided with detailed information about the register, and after some time for consideration, they can agree to take part. Their information will be recorded onto a secure database, either by a healthcare professional, or by the person with MND themselves through a register website (this will then be checked by a healthcare professional).Read More »

Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi wins prestigious prize

Huge congratulations to Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi for winning the prestigious Sheila Essey Award at the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) research conference taking place in Vancouver, Canada.

Professor Al-Chalabi is an MND Association funded researcher and Professor of Neurology and Complex Disease Genetics at King’s College London. He is also the Director of our MND Care and Research Centre at King’s.

The Sheila Essey Award is jointly given by the AAN and the ALS Association in the USA, and recognises an individual who has made significant research contributions in the search for the cause, prevention of, and cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, a type of MND).

Prof Al-Chalabi is receiving the award for his role in helping us learn more about the complex causes of MND, including the role of genetics in the non-familial form of MND.

“It is a wonderful acknowledgement of the work the present and past members of my team have done in ALS/MND research,” Prof Al-Chalabi said.Read More »

Improving the classification of ALS – can we make it logical?

Yesterday at the International Symposium on ALS/MND Prof Ammar Al-Chalabi (Director of King’s Care Centre and Professor of Complex Genetics at King’s College London) cautioned the motor neurone disease (MND) research community about the confusing way we describe this disease we are all fighting. He started his talk by showing a standard definition of what MND is, and then pointed out some of the areas that were inconsistent – or has he put it, illogical.

For example is MND described by: whether it affects the motor neurones running from the brain to the spinal cord (upper motor neurones) or from the spinal cord to the muscles – whether that’s in our hands, arms or feet (lower motor neurones)? Or is it defined by where the symptoms appear – in what Prof Al-Chalabi described as the geography – either with speech and swallowing problems, or foot drop, or clumsiness / loss of dexterity in the hand?

Asking the Dr Spock question..

To illustrate his point he shared the results of a survey he’d carried out with over 100 neurologists across Europe, North America and Australia. Firstly he asked them what terms they used to give definitions of MND, ranging from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) and progressive muscular atrophy (PMA) to ‘classical’ MND – from a list of 26 descriptions, all of them were used!Read More »

On the fifth day of Christmas MND research gave to me: 5+1 steps trigger MND

 “On the fifth day of Christmas MND research gives to you… FIVE +1 triggers believed to cause MND”

Under the leadership of Prof Neil Pearce at Prof Ammar Al-Chalabi, researchers have used a mathematical approach previously used by cancer researchers to explain why MND is an adult-onset disease, and why it varies (even within families).

The researchers found that MND is caused by a sequence of six different events (5+1 as the equation states!) over a lifetime. Each event is a step towards developing MND, until the last one results in disease.

equation

Prof Al-Chalabi said: “The next stage is to try to identify the steps, because this will help us understand what causes MND, help us to design treatments, and could help with reducing the risk of developing MND in the first place.”

Click here to read more about this mathematical approach to MND