11th PG Award: Another UK MND scientist internationally recognised

Every year, the feeling that the International Symposium on ALS/MND is ever so slightly closer comes when the Paulo Gontijo Award winner is announced. We were therefore delighted to hear that the 11th PG Award has gone to Dr Laura Ferraiuolo from the University of Sheffield for her investigation into the role of astrocyte-secreted extravesicular vesicles as well as for her continuous dedication to understand and find a treatment for MND.

The work of Dr Ferraiuolo and her team focuses on the adverse effect of neuronal support cells, called astrocytes, which have previously been shown to be implicated in the degeneration of motor neurones. By generating astrocytes from skin cells of people with MND and comparing these to those of healthy people, the study found that small particles, called extracellular vesicles, that are released by astrocytes, are damaged and have a negative effect on microRNA molecules, important components of gene expression. The team also found that the specific microRNAs affected by this are involved in the maintenance of axons, the long projections of neurones along which electrical signals are sent and information is passed from nerve to muscle.

This work has not only revealed how these vesicles affect the functioning of motor neurones but also identified new ways through which potential treatments could tackle neuronal degeneration. By targeting specific microRNA molecules, their function can be manipulated and therefore affect the improper functioning of motor neurones. Although this study still has to be confirmed in animal models, it is a promising therapeutic target and potentially a big step forward in understanding and treating the disease.

Dr Brian Dickie, the Association’s Director of Research Development and a member of the International Judging Committee said:

“We need the brightest and the best working on this devastating disease”

“The PG Award is highly competitive and Dr Ferraiuolo is a wonderful example of the talented and dedicated of young scientists around the world who have joined the fight against MND.”

Dr Ferraiuolo is a Lecturer in Translational Neurobiology at the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and has been involved in a number of ground-breaking projects that improved our understanding of MND. The MND Association is proud to have funded her PhD Studentship, and we are sure many more talented young investigators will follow in her footsteps on the way to finding a treatment for this disease.

Dr Ferraiuolo will present the findings of her winning paper at the 30th International Symposium on ALS/MND in Perth, Australia this December.

For further information and support contact our MND Connect helpline

mndconnect 0808 802 6262