Defining disease progression in MND from MRI ‘snapshots’

Although conventional brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are often normal in people with MND, more sophisticated MRI techniques have shown changes in the structure of their brains as the disease progresses. A limitation of even the most recent MRI techniques is that they can only provide a snapshot of the brain at a single moment in the course of the illness.

Only a description of how these MRI changes evolve over time as the disease advances will tell us how the nerve cell damage due to MND is evolving, area by area, in relation to an individual’s symptoms. This could be obtained by collecting several MRI scans from the same person over time, but the nature of MND makes it challenging to get scans showing the course of disease over several years.

We are funding a three year PhD studentship that aims to use a new imaging method to define the progression of MND (our reference: 859-792). The researcher team, involving Profs Mara Cercignani and Nigel Leigh from the University of Sussex, will use MRI scans that have already been obtained from people with MND and healthy controls.Read More »

Using surface EMG to see if fasciculations can be used as a biomarker for MND

What are fasciculations?

When motor neurones in the spinal cord become damaged this makes them electrically unstable, meaning they spontaneously discharge electrical impulses that cause small groups of muscles to contract. These contractions, known as fasciculations, are a common symptom of MND. Research suggests that they might be a good marker of motor neurone health.

Tracking fasciculations with surface EMG

Prof Chris Shaw
Prof Chris Shaw

Led by researchers Prof Chris Shaw and Prof Kerry Mills, Dr James Bashford is using technology called surface EMG to collect data on the site and frequency of fasciculations in different muscles in people with MND. Fasciculations in people with MND are different to benign fasciculations, which can occur in people without the disease and are generally harmless. James and the team hope to show that fasciculations in those with MND have a unique ‘fingerprint’ which can be accurately identified and tracked.

Data collected will be compared to other information currently used to track the progression of MND. James and the team hope surface EMG might provide a more sensitive way of measuring disease progression than previously used methods. This one year feasibility study is being carried out at King’s College London at a cost of £95,000 (our reference: 932-794).Read More »

Developing the Biomarkers in Oxford Project

Biomarkers in Oxford (BioMOx) is a research project with the aim of identifying a diagnostic biomarker for MND, which could be used to track the progression of this condition.

What are biomarkers?

The aim is to identify biomarkers, or ‘biological fingerprints’ for MND. This could be through testing blood and spinal fluid (CSF) samples from people with MND, or using MRI scans and other imaging techniques to look at changes in the brain.

By understanding the very earliest changes detected in these samples at the start of MND (the biomarker), it is hoped that they could be used to work towards disease prevention and to develop more targeted therapy for those already affected by MND.

For example, including a biomarker element in future clinical trials will help us learn more about the disease and identify participants most likely to benefit from the drug being tested.

Being able to track the progression of the disease could also help with effective care-planning for people with MND.Read More »

Can the progression of MND pause or reverse?

Could there be a small number of people for whom there is a pause or a reversal in their disease progression? A talk at the Symposium on Friday afternoon from Dr Rick Bedlack (Duke University) looked into this very topic.

There have been few studies looking into the changing nature of motor neurone disease (MND) progression, so it is unknown how common this is.

Pause and reversal

This pause or reversal phenomenon in their MND or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is reliant on data from validated outcome measures such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Functional Rating Scale (ALSFRS-R) scores.Read More »

The Cinderella symptom: Muscle cramps in MND

While muscle cramps are a very common symptom of motor neurone disease (MND) there is currently few effective ways of management and treatment.

Even though muscle cramps are frequently reported, not a lot is known about this symptom, as research has been limited. You could say they were the Cinderella of MND symptoms – lacking attention and their moment under the spotlight compared to other symptoms.

A lack of research means we do not know how frequently people who have MND experience muscle cramps, how severe they are and whether the nature of the muscle cramps change as a person’s ALS progresses.

It is important to study this symptom, as successful management of muscle cramps will impact on quality of life.

A change in focus – Cinderella symptom no more!

A team at the University of California carried out the largest research study to date on muscle cramps in ALS, and Dr Bjorn Oskarsson (pictured) presented their work on the first day of the Symposium.Read More »

The ALS biomarkers study: a journey into the disease

Dr Andrea Malaspina is an Association-funded researcher investigating biomarkers, or ‘biological fingerprints’ of MND. Here he blogs about working with patients and basic science.

I regularly meet people living with MND due to my role as a Consultant Neurologist at the Bart’s and the London MND Care Centre and one of the most common questions I get asked is about getting involved in research. My research enables people living with MND to take part, therefore bridging the gap between the lab and the clinic.

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) Blizzard Institute MND group
Queen Mary’s University of London (QMUL) Blizard Institute MND group

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