Scientists uncover potential target for MND treatments

Euan MacDonald and Dr Arpan Mehta

Researchers part-funded by the MND Association have discovered a new target for potential drug trials to treat motor neurone disease.

Scientists at the Euan MacDonald Centre, led by Dr Arpan Mehta, the Association’s Lady Edith Wolfson Clinical Fellow (funded in partnership with the Medical Research Council), have shown that improving the function of mitochondria – the power supply of nerve cells – could be a potential treatment for MND.

The study paves the way for the generation of novel therapies targeted at boosting energy levels in mitochondria in MND.

The key cells affected in MND are the motor neurons that allow us to move, eat and breathe. Each cell has long thin processes called axons which connect to the muscles.

The researchers found that axons made from the cells of people with MND were shorter than in healthy cells and that the transport of mitochondria, the cell’s energy source, was impaired. For the first time the scientists showed that by boosting the mitochondria the axon reverted to normal.

Dr Mehta said:

“Our data provides hope that by restoring the cell’s energy source we can protect the axons and their connection to muscle from degeneration. Work is now underway to identify existing licensed drugs that can boost mitochondrial function and repair the motor neurons. This will then pave the way to test them in clinical trials.”

Dr Brian Dickie, the Association’s Director of Research Development, said:

“Neurons are the most energy hungry cells in the body and the unique structure of motor neurons in particular means they need to closely regulate and maintain their energy production. These new findings indicate that a deficiency is occurring, but it is a deficiency that also offers a potential therapeutic target.”

Find out more on our Research Blog

Featured image: Euan MacDonald visits Dr Mehta at the University of Edinburgh (MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY).

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