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

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 »

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 »

Heads up! The Sheffield Support Snood

5 b (3)During the second day of the symposium Association-funded researcher, Dr Chris McDermott, presented his highly anticipated research on a new neck support for people living with MND.

Our healthcare research aims to lead to better symptom management and support for people living with MND. We know that neck weakness is an extremely distressing problem in MND and it is very difficult as a clinician to treat this.

Dr Chris McDermott from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) said that he wanted to address this problem by working with people living with MND to develop a solution. Read More »

Assistive technology and the power of voice

4 b (3)Our general election campaign for 2015 is featured around communication because we believe that nobody should have to lose their voice to MND. The afternoon session on Friday 5 December during the 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND also focussed on this topic.

Around 80-95% of people living with MND will face communication problems as their speech deteriorates. Through local and national campaigning we can give people living with MND a voice; be it signing the MND Charter or by influencing the 2015 general election campaign. Read More »

What is needed to advance a drug candidate into clinical trials?

The 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND began today in Brussels, Belgium. More than 900 delegates joined the opening session to hear Dr Alfred Sandrock from Biogen Idec’s opening talk.


The only proven drug for MND is riluzole. This is the only treatment to have passed all stages of clinical trial testing, showing it to be both safe and beneficial in MND. New treatments are desperately needed, but what is needed to advance a treatment that has shown promise in animals to humans? Read More »