Professor Al-Chalabi of Kings College London has received funding to pursue research into the impact a specific retrovirus could have on the development of MND.
Funding has also been awarded to Professor Siddharthan Chandran, from the University of Edinburgh, to recruit a PhD student who will use human stem cells and advanced technology with the aim of speeding up the discovery of new MND drugs.
Professor Al-Chalabi, Kings College London
Retroviruses are viruses which can integrate themselves into the human genome so that they are inherited like normal genes. They comprise 8% of our genome, whereas proteins comprise only 1%.
One inherited retrovirus, called HERV-K, integrated itself 150,000 years ago and remains potentially active. Activated HERV-K is toxic to motor neurons, and people with Motor Neurone Disease have blood markers which suggest that this HERV-K retrovirus has been activated.
Prof. Al-Chalabi will use powerful computing methods to compare the entire genome sequences of 16,000 people, half of whom have MND, to advance this area of research.
Retroviruses are treatable, so this area of research offers the potential for the development of new therapies for MND in the future.
Prof. Siddharthan Chandran, Euan MacDonald Centre, University of Edinburgh
Professor Chandran will hire a PhD student who will bring together world-leading skills in human stem cells, drug discovery and MND biology to create a state-of-the-art human drug discovery platform.
The PhD student will use the latest advanced technology to create a human "discovery in a dish" platform for identifying existing medicines as well as evaluating the potential positive impact of new chemical combinations on the health of motor neuron brain cells.
The purpose of this is to fast-track the discovery of potential candidate drugs and approved medicines for future MND clinical trials.
Craig Stockton, Chief Executive of MND Scotland, said: "Our vision at MND Scotland is of a world without MND and the only way we can realise this vision is through progress in MND research. That's why we are currently investing £2.4 million to help make this progress a reality.
"I look forward to working with Professors Al-Chalabi and Chandran with the hope that together we can break new ground in MND research."
Craig Stockton | Chief Executive
15 January 2020
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