The MND Australia Research Meeting 2016 was held on Friday 21 October at the Queensland Brain Institute.
Researchers with grants funded by the Motor Neurone Disease Research Institute of Australia in 2016 were invited to submit abstracts for oral or poster presentations. All MND researchers and students were invited to submit posters for presentation at the meeting.
The national MND Australia Research Meeting is held each year following the Grants Allocation Meeting of the MNDRIA Research Committee which meets to assess and allocate grants for the following year. This research conference has been held annually since 2005 and has been integral to the development and funding of MND research in Australia. Meetings have been held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to facilitate participation for researchers in different states.
The objectives of the MND Australia Research Meeting were:
- To promote sharing of expertise amongst MND researchers in Australia
- To enable interaction of researchers to foster the development of research collaborations
- To provide feedback to a wide audience about the latest developments in MND research
- To demonstrate the value of the funded research to donors to encourage their continuing support.
REVIEW OF MND AUSTRALIA RESEARCH MEETing 2016
Clare Watson, Isabella Lambert-Smith, Justin Yerbury, University of Wollogong
More than 130 passionate researchers gathered at the Queensland Brain Institute in sunny Brisbane on Friday 21 October to attend the MND Australia Research Meeting 2016. This year’s meeting included 21 speakers reporting on the outcomes of their research projects supported by MNDRIA in 2016 and 35 stimulating poster presentations.
The theme of the first session was new models in research to understand the causes of MND. We heard about studies in fruit flies, zebra fish and mice from A/Professor Greg Neely, Dr Nicholas Cole, and Dr Adam Walker respectively. Each model organism has its own advantages and together they provide an array of techniques for researchers to test new therapeutic strategies. We heard about the effects of cellular stress in motor neurones and the possible involvement of structures called “paraspeckles” from Western Australian researcher Dr Archa Fox while A/Professor Julie Atkin shared her work on the potential role of DNA damage in MND.
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The accumulation and deposition of pathological proteins is a common hallmark of MND and was a common theme of the next session. A/Professor Danny Hatters is developing a tool to measure protein homeostasis in cells grown in culture in the laboratory. Similarly Dr Shu Yang is aiming to do the same thing using skin cells donated by MND patients and by focusing on one aspect of protein homeostasis – protein removal (or degradation). Cellular systems of protein removal are likely to be dysfunctional in MND; Dr Darren Saunders and Dr Albert Lee both provided evidence that this is the case. Dr Marco Morsch provided striking evidence that protein aggregates can travel from one cell to another in a living zebra fish brain.
In the afternoon session, research focusing on potential therapeutic treatments under study and drug delivery approaches was discussed. Dr Peter Crouch updated the audience on his research on the effect of copper malfunction in MND. Metal ions like copper are essential for the activity of proteins and enzymes in our cells. Dr Crouch’s research is supporting a preliminary clinical trial to test a potential therapeutic named copper-ATSM, which aims to correct this mineral malfunction in MND. Meanwhile, A/Professor Peter Noakes has been studying another drug, PMX205, in a mouse model of MND. This drug has shown a therapeutic effect in mice when administered before or shortly after the onset of symptoms. On a different tack, Dr Sandy Shultz is investigating the link between traumatic brain injuries and MND in rodent models, which may provide alternative pathways for drug development. To improve the delivery of therapeutics to motor neurones, a common hurdle in drug development for MND, Dr Mary-Louise Rogers and Dr Bradley Turner are developing “immunogenes” while Dr Justin Yerbury presented a liposome-based approach. Both strategies use specific antibodies chosen for their ability to direct the delivery of a gene therapy or drug from circulation to motor neurones, the site of the disease.
The final session wrapped up the day of talks at the clinical end of the research spectrum. A/Professor Tracey Dickson and Dr Catherine Blizzard are studying why neurones in the cortex of the brain are overactive. It may be because the usual mechanisms to inhibit neuronal overactivity are dysfunctional in MND or that protein aggregates of TDP-43, the major MND-associated protein, disturb neurone-to-neurone communication. In line with A/Professor Dickson’s finding, Dr Nimeshan Geevasinga reported that in people with C9ORF72-familial MND and those with sporadic MND, the normal inhibitory neuronal activity of the motor cortex is reduced. This work tells us that these two different cohorts of patients share a common physiological abnormality that causes cortical hyperexcitability. Exercise researcher Dr Michael Lee told us that patients can maintain what they’re currently doing for exercise, but not to exercise to fatigue. Instead, intermittent exercise below the level of maximum exertion can be beneficial as it helps to restore neurone activity to normal levels. In terms of energy requirements, Dr Derik Steyn emphasised that no two MND patients are the same and their energy needs vary greatly, but hypermetabolism and weight loss are universally detrimental to disease progression. A patient’s intake of energy from their diet alters the course of disease: energy supplementation slows disease progression while energy restriction accelerates it. So a calorie-rich diet as well as whatever low-moderate amounts of exercise one is capable of are two ways a person with MND can actively help themselves out and improve their quality of life.
The evening poster session was held together with a drinks reception to close the research meeting. The Poster Committee reviewed twelve student posters and the prize for best poster was awarded to PhD student Andi Lee from The University of Queensland for her poster ‘Mutation of TDP43 leads to disrupted transmission and morphology at neuromuscular junctions’. It was great to see the next generation of researchers in the field present their outstanding work.
two presentations celebrate commitment to mnd research
Two special presentations were made at the MND Australia Research meeting in Brisbane. An award in recognition of exceptional philanthropy was presented to Australian Philanthropist John Laidlaw by MNDRIA Research Committee Chair Professor Matthew Kiernan. John and Betty Laidlaw have donated $2 million to MND research. A $1 million donation last year led to the Betty Laidlaw MND Research Grant, which was awarded to Dr Peter Crouch from the University of Melbourne in May. Dr Crouch is leading a multicentre team working on "Copper malfunction in MND: a therapeutic target for sporadic MND." A second $1 million commitment has enabled the establishment of four mid-career awards to be given out over four years.
A special award was also presented to Professor Dominic Rowe AM in recognition of his exceptional leadership of the MNDRIA Research Committee over ten years 2005. On accepting the award from MNDRIA Research Committee Chairman Professor Matthew Kiernan and Executive Director Research MND Australia Janet Nash, Professor Rowe reflected on research progress over the last few years and how much things have changed. Research has transformed our understanding as we work together towards a world without MND.
Download full program with abstracts
This meeting was proudly supported by: