The research, carried out at the University of St Andrews and the University of Edinburgh, found that glial cells, which normally support neurons throughout the brain and spinal cord, become damaging to motor neurons in MND.
By growing different combinations of glial cells and motor neurons together in the lab, the researchers found that glial cells from patients can cause motor neurons from healthy individuals to stop producing the electrical signals they need to control muscles in the body.
The researchers used stem cells derived from patient skin samples to understand why MND causes motor neurons to lose their ability to generate the electrical signals needed to control muscles. Stem cells are often used for research into diseases that have no cure, such as MND.
Professor Gareth Miles, Professor of Neuroscience and Head of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews, was one of the lead researchers on the project.
His research was funded by MND Scotland, the MND Association (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the MRC and Dementia Research Institute.
Prof Gareth Miles said: “We are very excited by these new findings which clearly point the finger at glial cells as key players in this devastating disease.
“Interestingly, the negative influence of glial cells seems to prevent motor neurons from fulfilling their normal roles, even before the motor neurons show signs of dying.
“We hope that this new information highlights targets for the development of much-needed treatments and ultimately a cure for MND.”
Dr Steven Karlsson-Brown, MND Scotland’s Research and Education Officer, said: “We are thrilled by today’s findings and I would like to thank Professor Miles and his team for all of their efforts. Their work in the lab has helped us expand our knowledge of this complex illness, and we hope this discovery will take us closer to finding effective treatments for MND, and ultimately a cure.
“This study shows us that MND Scotland is leading the fight back against MND in Scotland – and our effort is powered by an army of fundraisers who make all of this possible.
“I hope each of our fundraisers take pride in being a part of this discovery. We hope even more people will join us in 2020 so that we can pull together to defeat MND for good.”
If you are interested in learning more about MND Scotland's research projects, please contact Dr. Steven Karlsson-Brown, our Research and Education Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0141 332 3903.
Professor Gareth Miles (University of St Andrews) – Professor of Neuroscience, Head of School, School of Psychology and Neuroscience; Partner member of the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research.
Professor Siddharthan Chandran (University of Edinburgh) – MacDonald Professor of Neurology; Director of the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research; Programme Leader, Dementia Research Institute, Edinburgh.
Prof Gareth Miles