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Research may help Motor Neurone Disease sufferers

Research may help Motor Neurone Disease sufferers

New research into how different drugs can alter the development of Motor Neurone Disease is underway in Auckland.

The drug discovery project at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research, follows the arrival of Dr Emma Scotter from King’s College London to take up the Aotearoa Post-Doctoral Fellowship there.

She is working with Professor Mike Dragunow and Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble at the CBR on research into about 4000 different drugs to see if any of the compounds can influence, or change, the development of Motor Neurone Disease in patient brain cells.

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a neurodegenerative disease in which the nerve cells, or neurons, controlling the muscles that enable us to move, speak, swallow and breathe slowly undergo degeneration and die. There are about 300 people in New Zealand with this fatal disease.

MND Association President Beth Watson welcomed the opportunity to highlight this research on the eve of MND Global Awareness Day on June 21.

“If we’re going to make a difference to people’s lives with MND, we need research like this to better understand the factors that cause it and ultimately find a cure,” she says.
“It’s a really exciting project and we’re lucky to have the likes of Dr Scotter and MND Patron and Director of the CBR, Professor Richard Faull, working on MND research in New Zealand.”

Dr Scotter says this research brings together unique factors that will not only help better understand MND, but may even find a drug that can help cure the disease.

“The first is working with a world-leading biobank, established and run by Professor Mike Dragunow with a $1 million philanthropic donation from the Hugh Green Foundation, which grows cells from the brains of patients who had MND (from the CBR’s Brain Bank),” says Dr Scotter. “Those cells have the same genetic code and were exposed to the same environment as the patient with MND.”

“What we really want to do from here is to screen for drugs that will eventually help patients with MND,” she says.

Dr Scotter, working with biobank staff, will use specially cultivated cells – cells which normally surround blood vessels in the brain and which control blood supply and inflammatory signals to the nerve cells affected in MND - to test their response to the different drugs.

These drugs are from two large drug libraries - one containing manufactured compounds and the second, derived from natural products - the result of a project led by Professor Margaret Brimble. Dr Scotter will also work closely with her former colleagues at King’s College London.

“This research project takes New Zealand’s MND research to an exciting new phase,” says Dr Scotter. “The best outcome would be to find that one of those drugs can alter or slow the effects of MND in patient brain cells.”

“No-matter what the outcome, the team will certainly learn a lot more about cell functions that are affected by MND and contribute to the increasing understanding of this disease”, she says.


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