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The Medical Research Council (MRC) has led the way in finding new approaches to link up academic and industry researchers. Three years ago, in a pioneering deal with AstraZeneca (AZ), 15 projects were funded in which groups of academic researchers are investigating alternative uses for compounds that are no longer being developed by the company.
Dr Richard Mead’s group at SITraN were among the first to get involved in the project when it was launched in 2012. They are using a drug originally developed for Alzheimer’s disease by Astra Zeneca – but subsequently abandoned – for a new purpose: to investigate a cell signalling process which they suspect is involved in motor neurone disease (MND). While also bound by company confidentiality agreements, Richard says he’s “hopeful” about what they have discovered so far from studies in mice.
Gaining access to AZ’s resources, expertise and toxicity data for the compound they are using has given the group a great head start, and he is confident that it will allow them to get definitive answers to questions they’ve been chasing for many years:
“With the pharmacological knowledge and support of AZ and the data we’ve generated on this project we’ll be able to say definitively that this pathway isn’t worth pursuing any longer if it doesn’t work. Or conversely, if it does work we’ll have enough data to continue down the line of doing studies in patients.”
Naturally, Astra Zeneca gain from the deal too. The company has exclusive rights to buy back the intellectual property on any drugs that look promising, and access to information they couldn’t get anywhere else, says Richard:
“At the University of Sheffield we are experts in our animal models. Most drug companies wouldn’t have deep knowledge of the preclinical model systems for a disease like MND – it just wouldn’t be worth their while to invest in that over many years. But we can describe in detail how we will execute a study for a particular drug, depending on the pathway that it’s targeting.”
Professor Pam Shaw welcomes the families of our graduates to SITraN.
On Friday 15 January 2016, SITraN and the Department of Neuroscience celebrated the achievements of their latest PhD and MSc graduates. After successfully completing their 3-year laboratory research training, nine candidates were awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy: Sufana Almashhadi, Aziza Alrafiah, Khayria Alsomali, Nimah Alsomali, David Baker, Joanna Bury, Johnathan Cooper-Knock, Andreas Damianou, Aida Mohammedeid. Moreover, the Department was proud to present 32 masters students in Translational Neuroscience (18) and Clinical Neurology (14) who graduated in these popular courses established in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
MSc Clinical Neurology (left)and MSc Translational Neuroscience graduates (middle) with their course leader, and some of our PhD graduates (right) celebrating at SITraN.
Prizes for our master students:
Laura Francis was awarded the “Jonathan Stone Prize for Translational Neuroscience” for the overall highest grade in her course. Claire Green won the Department Prize for the highest research project result in Translational Neuroscience.
Both prizes for the MSc in Clinical Neurology went to Jessica Collins, the Department Prize for the highest research project result, as well as the “Irene and Richard Beard Prize for Clinical Neurology” for the overall highest grade in her course.
Our prize winners: Laura Francis (left) with Dr Janine Kirby, Claire Green (middle) and Jessica Collins (right) with Dr Thomas Jenkins and Dr Dan Blackburn.
Building on the success of the master courses, the Department of Neuroscience now offers two further masters degrees in Translational Pathology [Neuroscience] and Genomic Medicine. For more information on postgraduate studies, MSc courses and PhD opportunities, visit the PGR web pages of SITraN and the Department of Neuroscience.
Congratulations to all our students and the very best wishes for their future!
With great pleasure, the Department of Neuroscience is able to announce three successes in the annual promotions round, effective from 1st January 2016, as well as two new appointments, as follows:
Congratulations to our staff promoted and newly appointed in the Department of Neuroscience!
A delegation from SITraN led by Director Professor Dame Pam Shaw presented their latest research on motor neuron disease (MND) at the 26th International Symposium on ALS/MND in Orlando, USA, from 11th to 13th December 2015. The symposium is the premier event in the MND research calendar for discussion on the latest advances in research and clinical management. With over 800 delegates from the MND research community worldwide, it is the largest medical and scientific conference specific to MND, known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in the US. The aim of the symposium is to foster strong collaboration between leading researchers around the world, and to share new understanding of the disease as rapidly as possible. SITraN had a strong representation at the event with four podium presentations and three poster presentations.
Consultant Neurologist and Reader in Neurology Dr Chris McDermott gave two podium presentations in the session on respiratory support. He talked about the development of guidance for professionals in the UK for the withdrawal of assisted ventilation at the request of a patient with MND and later in the session presented the results from the UK multi-centre trial DiPALS, investigating the benefits of a diaphragm pacing device to support breathing in people affected by MND. In the session on biomarkers, Consultant Neurologist and Senior Clinical Lecturer Dr Thomas Jenkins showed his preliminary data on the potential of whole-body muscle magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a biomarker in MND. Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock presented his latest studies on the mechanisms that lead to MND in cases linked to the C9orf72 gene, the most common known genetic cause of MND.
Poster sessions: SITraN PhD students Natalie Rounding (left) and Jodie Stephenson (right)
and Dr Tennore Ramesh, Lecturer in Translational Neuroscience (middle).
At the poster sessions Dr Tennore Ramesh presented his work on drug screening for ALS in zebrafish. For two SITraN PhD students this was the first visit to an international conference: Natalie Rounding and Jodie Stephenson presented research posters on their projects, characterising a new zebrafish and mouse model for MND, and both were pleased about the interest and feedback they received for their research.
Prof Dame Pam Shaw said: “The International Symposium on ALS/MND is the premier event to hear about the latest research and progress made in MND research and to discuss our work with colleagues and collaborators from all over the world. We are very proud to have had such a great representation of SITraN with six of our researchers and PhD students presenting their work to the MND research community.”
The event was also a great opportunity for a successful meeting of the members of the Project MinE consortium, including SITraN Director Prof Dame Pam Shaw. The worldwide collaboration in MND genetics research aims to find the causes for MND by sequencing the genomes of 15,000 people with MND and comparing them with the genomes of 7,500 healthy individuals. The project has so far collected more than 6,000 genome profiles, 27% of the total target. In the consortium meeting, researchers from more than 15 countries were present to discuss the progress of Project MinE.
The event is organised by the UK’s main charity for MND, the MND Association, in cooperation with the International Alliance for ALS Associations; this year’s event was hosted by the US ALS Association. The complete programme of the ALS/MND symposium is available online from the MND Association website. Watch out for mndresearch blogs on the event by Jodie Stephenson and Natalie Rounding on https://mndresearch.wordpress.com/.
The next symposium will be held in Dublin, Ireland, from 7-9 December 2016.
SITraN scientists are planning the first ever trial of non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation in motor stroke recovery in collaboration with the Academic Department of Physiotherapy at Sheffield Hallam University. Hopes are that stimulation of the vagus nerve will enhance neuroplasticity and stimulate recovery of limb strength and function after stroke.
Dr Jessica Redgrave, NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Neurology and chief investigator of the study, said:
“We want to find out whether stimulating a long nerve in the body called the vagus nerve can make physiotherapy more effective in patients with arm weakness after a stroke and hopefully return function to the arm. The vagus nerve runs through the neck, near the pulse, and is involved in the functioning of several bodily systems including the brain. One branch of the vagus nerve supplies the outer ear where it can be stimulated.
Vagus nerve stimulation releases chemicals called neurotransmitters across the brain surface. In animal studies, these chemicals can help the brain re-learn how to perform activities such as controlling arm movements. Ours will be the first trial of this technique in humans after a stroke.”
Participants for the study will be recruited at the Northern General Hospital Clinical Research Facility in Sheffield from October 2015. They will receive an intensive six week programme of physiotherapy three times weekly combined with vagus nerve stimulation through the ear. The first phase of the study is to determine feasibility and acceptability of the intervention in 20 patients who had a stroke at least three months ago. A pilot trial of the technique is planned for Spring 2016. The project is a collaboration between Dr Jessica Redgrave and Professor Arshad Majid, Chair in Cerebrovascular Research, at the University of Sheffield, and physiotherapist Nicky Snowdon from Sheffield Hallam University. Dr Redgrave has received funding from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) for patient and public involvement in the trial design.
Stroke is the most common cause of neurological disability, and at any one time 300,000 people in the UK are living with disability after a stroke. 75% of stroke survivors are left with permanent weakness of the arm which impacts on their activities of daily living such as eating, dressing and working, contributing to poor quality of life, increased care costs and increased burden on carers or family members.