Lifestyle & environment: Highlights from Glasgow

This blog is part of the ‘Highlights from Glasgow’ collection of articles, where you can read about the content of some of the talks and posters presented at the 29th International Symposium on ALS/MND.

In the Epidemiology session (5C), several talks focused on the risk associated with various lifetime events, and the demographics of people who develop MND categorised by onset at various body regions. Susan Peters (C37) and her colleagues studied a group of 1,500 people with MND and 3,000 control participants, and found that people who had suffered head trauma after the age of 55 had an increased risk of developing the disease compared to those without this type trauma. They further found reduced risk in people currently/recently taking antihypertensive and cholesterol-lowering medication, but this risk was significantly increased in people who were taking these medications earlier in life. These findings now need to be explored further to investigate the underlying mechanisms that would explain these differences.Read More »

AMBRoSIA and NECTAR – Make your mark on MND

It has been almost a year since we announced that AMBRoSIA (A Multicentre Biomarker Resource Strategy In ALS) had begun to recruit participants (read the Autumn 2017 edition of Thumbprint).

AMBRoSIA is the biggest project that the MND Association has ever funded and recruitment occurs at three sites throughout the UK (Sheffield, headed by Prof Dame Pam Shaw, Oxford, headed by Prof Martin Turner and London, headed by Dr Andrea Malaspina).

The project will collect a number of biological samples, including blood, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), urine and skin in order to identify biomarkers (markers of biological change) that could be a signature of MND.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 »

Correcting the early damage seen in MND

Previous research in humans and zebrafish has shown that before symptoms arise in MND, early changes occur in the interneurones. This type of nerve cell provide a link between the upper and lower motor neurones in the brain and spinal cord.

The job of one type of interneurone (called inhibitory interneurones) is to apply the brakes on motor neurones. They work just like brakes on a bike stop the wheels from moving.

The interneurones control when chemical signals/messages (or action potentials) can be passed along the nerve cell. In MND these brakes are less effective (so to use the bike analogy, the brakes might be rusty or not connected properly).

Interneurones are being studied in more detail in a project led by Dr Jonathan McDearmid (University of Leicester), in collaboration with Dr Tennore Ramesh and Prof Dame Pamela Shaw (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience) (our reference: 835-791).Read More »

From genes to the clinic: MND Association and ALS Association-funded researcher wins the ENCALS Young Investigator Award 2014

After attending the ENCALS meeting in May I was busy scheduling the ‘blog a day’ in June, which meant I didn’t get chance to actually report on any developments from the meeting. During our ‘blog a day’ we wrote a lot about genetics, in terms of the UK MND Whole Genome Sequencing project and the UK MND DNA bank. Therefore, I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce a different area of genetic research and how it relates to what’s going on in the clinic.

The Award

During the European Network for a Cure of ALS (ENCALS) 2014 meeting (Leuven, Belgium 22 – 24 May 2014), Dr Ashley Jones, was awarded the Young Investigator Award.

It’s a highlight of the annual meeting, which showcases and recognises the work of the next generation of researchers in the field of MND, in this case, King’s College London-based Ashley.

But how does it feel to win such a prestigious award? Ashley said:

“Ammar phoned late Sunday evening, in a grave tone, and asked me if I was sitting down. I sat down, and began to worry. When he told me the news, I became inarticulate. I think there was some joyous laughter, and then I repeatedly asked him ‘really!?’”.

Prof Dame Pam Shaw presenting Dr Ashley Jones with the 2014 ENCALS Young Investigator Award
Prof Dame Pam Shaw presenting Dr Ashley Jones with the 2014 ENCALS Young Investigator Award

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The UK Whole Genome Sequencing project

Dr Samantha Price is the Research Information Co-ordinator at the MND Association. As well as organising the ‘blog a day’ during MND Awareness Month she also communicates the latest news about MND research. Here she blogs about the MND Association’s announcement of the UK Whole Genome Sequencing project.

It’s been a brilliant Awareness Month with blogs about zebrafish research and streaking meerkats. To end on a positive research note, we’re delighted to announce that we are funding a UK Whole Genome Sequencing project to help us understand more about the causes of MND. Utilising samples from our own UK MND DNA bank; researchers in the UK will aim to sequence 1,500 genomes to help identify more of the genetic factors involved in the disease.  Read More »

MND Researchers: England v Italy

Tonight England will take on Italy in the FIFA World Cup. It’s fair to say England look like they have pretty poor odds of winning the World Cup (yet alone getting through the Group stages!), however I’m sure many England supporters will be cheering on their team tonight as they take on the Italians.

As we’re posting a blog a day for MND Awareness month, in light of the England v Italy game, we introduce the MND Italian researchers line-up! We may support different football teams in the World Cup, but our Italian researchers are working together with our English researchers towards a world free from MND.

The Italian MND researchers

Photo x MND

The formation of Bendotti’s team is:

Bottom, from the left: Mattia Freschi, Massimo Tortarolo, Giovanni Nardo,Nicola Secomandi, Antonio Vallarola; Top, from the left: Martina Rossi, Beatrice Bosani, Caterina Bendotti, Valentina Torti, Maria Chiara Trolese

Our research mainly focuses on studying MND mouse models with the same gene mutation, but different disease progression (see our previous blog post). Our main research objective is to identify the key molecular pathways that modulate the disease course in these mice. This will enable us to develop reliable prognostic biomarkers of the disease and treatments capable of slowing down the course of the disease.

This work is carried out in a joint international collaboration with Prof Pam Shaw (University of Sheffield, UK) and Dr Andrea Malaspina ( Queen Mary University of London, UK ).

 Thank you for reading our ‘blog a day’ this Awareness Month. We would gratefully appreciate your thoughts and feedback via this short 2 minute survey.

Physical activity and MND – is there a link?

The results of new research investigating a link between physical activity and MND was presented by the University of Sheffield research group in the late-breaking news session on the last day of the 24th International Symposium on ALS/MND. Under the leadership of Prof Pam Shaw, along with Dr Chris McDermott, MND Association-funded researcher Dr Ceryl Harwood presented her findings.

Dr Brian Dickie, director of research development
Dr Brian Dickie, Director of Research Development

The background of MND and physical activity

Physical activity and the link between MND has long been debated amongst researchers.

There are a number of different types of physical activity; from leisure time (for example an evening walk) to more vigorous physical activity and athleticism (marathon runners and professional sportsmen).

Previous research back in 2008 found that Italians playing professional football had an increased risk of developing MND. However, this research is yet to be confirmed in other countries. Director of Research, Dr Brian Dickie said: “The Italian researchers also looked at professional cyclists and basketball players, but no association was found, so basically the jury has been out on whether athleticism is a risk factor for MND.”

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Same disease.. two very different mice!

The exact course, duration and rate of progression of MND often varies greatly from person to person; even when there is a known family history of the disease caused by a specific MND-causing gene (eg SOD1).

This same variability also occurs in mice. Researchers, funded by the MND Association, took two mice with the same SOD1 gene mutation from two different families (strains). By using these two mice the researchers identified a number of key changes in motor neurones that differ between fast and slow progressing forms of the disease.

Two mice… One gene

The SOD1 mouse
The SOD1 mouse model has been one of the most important MND research tools for scientists

Developing new disease models enables us to both understand the causes of MND and test potential new therapies.

Mice are commonly used in MND research and for the past 10 years or more, the SOD1 mouse model has been one of the most important research tools for scientists working in the field, particularly with testing potential new therapies.

Research published in September 2013 was carried out in a joint collaboration between Dr Caterina Bendotti (Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, Milan Italy) and Prof Pam Shaw (University of Sheffield, UK).

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