New stem cell technology reveals fresh insights into MND

Euan MacDonald Centre scientists have discovered new ways of studying what happens to motor neurons affected by MND by using stem cells derived from patient skin samples, according to research published in Nature Communications today.

The joint research project, led by scientists from the University of St Andrews and the University of Edinburgh, has shown that even before they show any signs of damage, motor neurons affected by MND lose the ability to generate the electrical signals required to make muscles contract due to changes in specialised proteins called ion channels.

Dr Gareth Miles from the University of St Andrews and lead researcher on the project, said:

Learning more about how and why motor neurons are lost in MND plays a crucial role in developing new treatments and ultimately finding a cure for this devastating disease. Using new developments in stem cell technology has enabled us to compare the function of motor neurons from healthy individuals with those from patients suffering from different forms of MND.

Dr Gareth Miles was supported in his research by University of St Andrews’ PhD student Anna-Claire Devlin (pictured, right, presenting her results at the MNDA Symposium in December 2014) and Euan MacDonald Centre Director Professor Siddharthan Chandran.

Dr Miles continued:

Our findings suggest this may be an early step in understanding and ultimately treating the disease process of MND and highlights ion channels as potential targets for future therapies. Our work also demonstrates that studying the function of stem cell-derived motor neurons could be important for the development and testing of new drugs to treat and eventually cure the disease.

Funding for the study was provided by Motor Neurone Disease Association.