11 February 2024 News
This International Day of Women and Girls in Science day on 11 February, the MND Association are celebrating the many outstanding women researching motor neurone disease in the UK, many who are supported by Association grants.
We proudly fund female researchers at different stages of their research careers, who are all carrying out research into MND across the research spectrum – from understanding the disease better through to hunting for new treatments.
As of December 2023 we had almost £21 million invested in research, including supporting female researchers - half of the non-clinical fellows we fund are women, while nearly two thirds of the PhD students are women.
Charlotte Gale is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield, searching for ways to modify faulty genes that cause MND using medicines that are already used to treat other conditions. She’s using a fruit fly model of MND (which is surprisingly similar to human MND) to study if the drugs can alter disease progression. Some of the processes underpinning the disease are the same in a fruit fly as a human, so could reveal exciting new clues that could treat people.
It's really exciting when I can actually see something that makes the flies better. Obviously it's not a person, it's not even a mammal - but it's so promising. Where you can just see that little glimmer of light that maybe something will work someday, and maybe it can actually be carried through.
Dr Emily Carroll is based in Oxford MND Centre and is also looking to repurpose existing drugs to treat MND. Instead of using fruit flies, she is testing existing drugs in cells in the lab that have a faulty gene linked to the development of MND. She hopes they will spot drugs that could be tested further in the lab and ultimately in clinical trials.
We hope that drug repurposing will allows us to fast track the drug discovery process for MND because the drugs we are testing have already gone through extensive safety testing. By investigating whether repurposed drugs can modify MND associated traits in different laboratory models, we can identify drugs that might be worth exploring further as potential treatments for MND.
"Women face different challenges in the workplace and it’s really important to have women as role models. In MND we are in a great place at the moment as there are many women researching MND, including women at senior levels which is inspiring for younger researchers.
Dr Rebecca Saleeb is a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and is hunting for new ways to diagnose MND at an earlier stage. Getting a diagnosis means people can access support and treatments quicker and join clinical trials before their condition has progressed too far. But currently, diagnosis can take months and involves many tests, hospital visits and much uncertainty.
Rebecca is searching for proteins that are only present in people with MND. These so-called biomarkers act as ‘flags’ of disease and could be used to develop much needed diagnostics, such as a blood test. She’s studying molecules that we know are already involved in MND such as TDP-43, but also wants to unpick why several proteins build up simultaneously in neurodegenerative conditions.
I want to work on things that can impact people’s lives. I'm still relatively early in my career, but now I really am working at the forefront and feel like I really am a scientist, and that's super exciting. I love piecing together results and solving the puzzle, however little it is.”
Rebecca would like to see more women consider science as a career and progress up the ladder. “I have generally felt very welcomed and supported by the people around me, but it can be tough being a woman in science,” she says. “There’s still progress to be made in supporting women to stay and make it work for them.
Women are playing a crucial role at the forefront of MND research, working to make a better future for people with MND.
Read more in our Women in Science research blog here