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Dundee scientists join Fun Run Relay

Two scientists will join family, friends, and colleagues by taking on the Fun Run Relay on Global MND Awareness Day.

Posted : 17/06/2020

Scientists from the University of Dundee will join forces on Global MND Awareness Day, Sunday 21st June, to raise money for the charity powering their Motor Neurone Disease (MND) research.

Chris Henstridge (37), who lives in Errol in Perthshire, was awarded a research grant from the charity MND Scotland in 2016, to help unlock the secrets of the rapidly progressing terminal illness. His first-of-its-kind MND study involves examining the tiny connections between brain cells, for clues as to the cause of MND.

He has joined fellow Dundee researcher Francisco Inesta-Vaquera (39) in setting-up a special team, made up of family, friends, and colleagues, for MND Scotland’s virtual Fun Run Relay across Scotland.

The race replaces the charity’s annual in-person Fun Run, which usually takes place at Strathclyde Park. MND Scotland has set its supporters a goal of covering all 581k (361 miles) of the Scottish mainland, from John O’Groats to Gretna.

Chris and Francisco have decided to take their efforts to the next level, by forming their own team, made up of family, friends and fellow researchers across the UK and Europe.

Chris said: “We’re in the process of forming a multi-national relay team for MND Scotland’s Fun Run Relay which takes place on Global MND Awareness Day on Sunday 21st June.

“I just established my research lab last year and I’ve since recruited a couple of PhD students who will work on MND-focused projects. Together, along with a research colleague in Dundee, we decided to set up a relay team to raise money for MND Scotland.

“We then decided to invite friends and family to run together as a large team. We have called ourselves the ‘Intergenerational TransEuro Express’ because we have members situated in John O’Groats to Barcelona and from one year old old to almost 60 years old!

“My dad, Andrew Webster, will start his 5k at John O’Groats, which is the symbolic start of MND Scotland’s race, and two of my PhD students are taking part, too. Nicole Hindley and her mum will each do 5k in Liverpool, and Anna Sanchez Avilla and her mum will take on a 5k in Barcelona.”

Chris is married to Ashley (34) and together they have a 1-year-old daughter, Ivy. Francisco is married to Dundee GP Virginia (39) and together they have two children, Rodrigo (7) and Alberto (5), all of who will be taking part in the event.

Chris said: “As a family we have been enjoying virtual quizzes on a weekend, so this will be another fun way to interact as a group of family and friends while also helping a fantastic and important cause.

“MND Scotland have been incredibly supportive throughout my research career and much of my success is down to the faith they had in my research ideas. I will always do what I can to help the charity and the amazing work they do for people living with MND.”

Chris’s research, a first-of-its-kind study in MND, has taken a big step forward in the last year.

“I have used donated post-mortem brain tissue from people with MND, and from healthy people, to examine the differences in the tiny connections between brain cells, called synapses. These have been broken up into small pieces and run through a highly sensitive machine which can identify all the individual fragments and create a picture of the proteins, or building blocks, that make up the synapse. This gives us an unprecedented view of what a human synapse looks like and how an MND synapse differs.

“Amazingly, in a structure that is 5000-times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, we identified approximately 5000 proteins at the synapse. What we are doing now is carefully analysing all these proteins to unravel which ones have changed in MND. This is important because we hope it may reveal proteins that can be targeted with new therapies to prevent synapse loss or dysfunction in MND, boosting brain cell communication and possibly halting disease progression.”

Iain McWhirter, Head of Fundraising at MND Scotland, said: “Just because we’re apart right now, doesn’t mean we can’t come together in spirit.

“We’ve been blown-away by the response to our virtual Fun Run event. We set our supporters the target of covering the length of Scotland; instead, they’ve already pledged to cover the length of Britain!

“I’d like to thank Chris, Francisco, and their teammates, for raising the bar and forming their own international team. Global MND Awareness Day will be extra special knowing that we’ll have runners as far as Barcelona flying the flag for MND Scotland.

“We’re incredibly proud of all of our researchers and the work they are doing to help us unlock the secrets of motor neurone disease and, ultimately, bringing us a step closer to a cure.

“Joining our Fun Run Relay is super easy. Simply Google ‘MND Scotland’, head on to our website, and sign up for free. Every penny raised will help us keep researchers like Chris busy in the lab, to bring us a step closer to a cure.”

All funds raised go directly to the charity and you can sponsor Chris and Francisco on their JustGiving page.

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