Dundee scientists win MND research grant
Published on 13 October 2021
The charity MND Scotland is to invest more than a quarter of a million pounds over the next two years into three new motor neurone disease (MND) research projects – powered by generous donations and fundraising by supporters
One of the new research projects, which has been selected based on advice from the charity’s Scientific Advisory Panel, will be carried out at the University of Dundee. MND Scotland will co-fund the project with Alzheimer’s Research UK.
The Dundee project will be run by Dr Chris Henstridge and Dr Francisco Iñesta-Vaquera. Together they will examine a special protein called TDP-43.
Dr Francisco Iñesta said, "I am delighted and extremely grateful to the funders for giving the Wolf and Henstridge laboratories (in collaboration with Prof. Gillingwater at Univ. of Edinburgh) the opportunity to test a bold, high risk-high gain hypothesis.
"This new partnership brings complementary expertise on cellular toxicology and dementia research that has the potential to transform the way we study these devastating diseases. We are hopeful that this ambitious project will provide the leverage for identifying new treatments and ultimately cure this disease.
"This project is a testament to the vibrant community and excellent research environment in the School of Medicine in Dundee. The opportunity to lead this project is of vital importance in my career development and I am extremely grateful for that."
Dr Chris Henstridge said, “I’m very pleased that MND Scotland has decided to fund our new work at the University of Dundee. Working with Dr Francisco Iñesta-Vaquera, we will establish a new model for observing cell stress which will help highlight the early development of MND pathology.
“I’ve worked with MND Scotland since my previous research was generously funded by the charity in 2016 and I’ve been privileged to talk at a number of their events. During the early stages of the pandemic, myself and Dr Iñesta-Vaquera recruited friends and family from across Europe to establish a marathon relay team to raise money for MND Scotland.
“It’s great to see how the success of events like these is allowing the charity to help people living with MND and power research. This project is a great example of why it is important to bring researchers from different backgrounds, together. I first met Dr Iñesta-Vaquera at a small conference in Dundee after he presented some of his work. Listening to his fantastic presentation, I saw the potential of utilising his approach in MND and we soon started talking about working together and applying for money to fund the project.
“With my expertise in MND and Dr Iñesta-Vaquera’s expertise in cell stress, we believe that the work we’re about to begin will not only increase our understanding of the early stages of the disease but also help in the development of new drugs.”
About the project
A new preclinical model for testing ALS drugs
The most common form of MND is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). There is currently no cure, due to our incomplete understanding of the disease. Almost every person with ALS has clumps of a protein called TDP-43 and these are linked to cell damage in the brain and spinal cord.
Dr Francisco Iñesta-Vaquera and Dr Chris Henstridge from the University of Dundee will develop a new way of testing drugs for the potential treatment of ALS and Frontotemporal dementia.
Researchers know that a form of cell damage called oxidative stress occurs in ALS, but they don’t know what happens first or which cells suffer this damage. By identifying the earliest stage of damage, the research team believes that new drugs could be designed to halt the disease.
The team will work on mice in the lab which will have the same TDP43 clumps seen in ALS patients. By adding a special “tag” the team will be able to highlight and identify the cells suffering from damage. Studying the animals at different stages will allow the team to see when cells encounter TDP-43 clumps and when the damage happens. These new tests will allow us to increase our understanding of disease progression and may provide a new way to test ALS drugs in the future.
Rachel Maitland, Chief Executive of MND Scotland, said: “I am delighted to announce that MND Scotland will be investing over a quarter of a million pounds into three new research projects.
"Forty years ago, MND Scotland started as an idea in a living room in Glasgow. Today, due to our incredible supporters, we fund innovative research projects and pioneering clinical trials.
"Despite the enormous challenges faced by charities over the last year and a half, our donors, fundraisers and corporate partners are the reason we are in a position to continue funding cutting-edge MND research.
"This latest investment demonstrates our commitment to the global fightback against motor neurone disease. Together, we will beat MND.”
Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a rapidly progressing terminal illness, which stops signals from the brain from reaching the muscles. This may cause someone to lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink or breathe unaided. There is currently no cure or effective treatment for MND and the average life expectancy from diagnosis is just 18 months.
On average approximately 200 people are diagnosed each year in Scotland and there are over 400 people in Scotland currently living with MND.
*Data from the Scottish MND Register.
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