It is extremely difficult to obtain human motor neurones for study or to grow motor neurones from animal models of MND. Scientists are now learning how to encourage stem cells to develop into living motor neurones in the laboratory, providing a unique resource for MND research.

Researchers would like to use human motor neurones generated from stem cells to help them understand what goes wrong in MND.

Re-programming adult cells (iPSCs)

It is now possible to 'turn back the clock' on adult human skin cells, reprogramming them to turn back into embryonic-like stem cells that have the potential to generate neurones.

As these stem cells are created without the use of embryos, the technique avoids the ethical issues surrounding stem cell research. These cells are called 'induced pluripotent stem cells' or iPSCs.

How can iPSCs be used in MND research?

Researchers can re-programme skin cells from people with the inherited form of MND and turn them into motor neurones and supporting cells.

Because these neurones contain a genetic cause of MND, they will display characteristics of the disease. They could be used to understand the underlying mechanisms of MND and as a screen for selecting drugs that may be beneficial.