11 April 2024 News

Dr Heather Marriott

A new research project has launched as part of the Pre-Fellowship scheme to fund MND research leaders of the future.  

The scheme is funded by the MND Association and administered by MND Scotland. It provides 12-18 months of ‘pump priming’ funds, bridges a long-acknowledged funding gap, and is designed to attract and retain early career researchers (ECRs).

Dr Heather Marriott has recently started an 18-month project at King’s College London. She will work alongside Dr Alfredo Iacoangeli and Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi on a project that aims to find early indicators of motor neurone disease (MND) progression.

MND is a complex disease which presents differently in people. Symptoms and how they progress over time vary, but there are biological features that are common to all MND patients in the latter stages of the disease.

It is thought that, in the pre-symptomatic and early stages of the disease, there are a variety of biological processes which contribute in different ways to the onset and progression of MND, based on the individual’s underlying biology. Dr Marriott’s project will test machine learning approaches to find ways of subcategorising patients . This will allow more personalised approaches to recommending people to the most suitable clinical trials, and will also help in the search for early diagnostics and biomarkers.

The Pre-Fellowship scheme is part of the new UK MND Research Institute to accelerate the search for new treatments, by providing funding and a collaborative research environment that encourages early career scientists to continue their training and careers in MND research.

This pre-fellowship is incredibly special in many ways. I’ll be able to develop my independence with the support of experienced mentors who appreciate the successes and challenges of research. The opportunity to engage and collaborate with researchers across the UK MNDRI is something I am really looking forward to because it is such a unique and encouraging environment! Getting to connect closely and communicate my research with people affected by MND is such an exciting aspect of this pre-fellowship too, as their experiences and perspectives will inform and shape my research, and I also want to make sure that my research will have a positive impact.

Dr Heather Marriott, MND Association Pre-Fellow

In addition to funding, Dr Marriott will receive mentoring from experts in the field and the chance to collaborate, communicate her science and participate in a buddy system between researchers and people living with MND.  

This scheme provides a fantastic opportunity to encourage early career researchers into MND research and promotes collaborative working between the charities and the new UK MND Research Institute. Projects such as Heather’s will not only help us understand more about the disease but might help move us towards a more personalised approach to finding treatments.

Dr Jane Haley MBE, Director of Research at MND Scotland

Two researchers were awarded Pre-Fellowships as part of the scheme in 2023.

The Pre-Fellowships scheme is vital in helping train the future of the UK MND research workforce with the best early career researchers out there. Personalised medicine projects such as the one Heather will be working on are key to tackling the complexity in how differently MND presents in people.

Dr Sophie Nyberg, Research Programmes and Partnerships Manager at the MND Association

Read more about Pre-Fellows within this scheme