News from the International Symposium on MND

12 December 2013

Six researchers from the Euan MacDonald Centre / Anne Rowling Clinic travelled to Milan at the end of last week to attend the 24th International Symposium on ALS/MND.

The Symposium was attended by 950 scientists and clinical staff with an interest in MND. For some, attendance was made possible by bursaries awarded by the Euan MacDonald Centre. The conference offered a packed programme of talks and posters on the latest findings in MND, and opportunity for networking to renew acquaintances and forge new collaborations.


For more about the Symposium see the Euan MacDonald Centre Twitter feed, the MNDA’s ‘MND Research’ blog and the MND/ALS Research and Care Community Blog.


Shuna Colville invested a lot of time discussing and promoting the Anne Rowling Clinic and Euan MacDonald Centre to collaborators and colleagues. For her, the meeting really brought home the importance of disease registries. A registry is a database that captures detailed patient information, including not only the clinical picture but also potentially genetics, psychological factors and imaging. By building a large and rich database packed with diverse information, researchers can build an increasingly accurate picture of the disease to guide future research.



Philippa Rewaj, a speech and language therapist, was speaking at this Symposium for the second time, having also presented her data two years ago in Sydney. She was particularly interested to hear a talk from Yana Yanusova of the University of Toronto, who discussed using objective measures of speech to measure progression in MND. This has given Philippa new ideas for use in clinical practice and in the voicebank project. Click here to download a short summary by Philippa.



Elaine Niven, a research fellow in Psychology, also gave a talk at the meeting. She was encouraged to see new emphasis on ALS as a multi-system disorder, that is, a condition that potential affects thinking and behavior in addition to movement. Elaine noted that that several talks in this area generated extensive discussion, indicating general enthusiasm among the researchers. Click here to download a short summary by Elaine.




Dario Magnani, a post-doc in Siddharthan Chandran’s lab, successfully presented his poster on oligodendrocyte dysfunction in MND/ALS. For him, the most exciting research at the Symposium related to a genetic mutation in the C9ORF72 gene, which was identified recently to contribute to approximately half of familial cases. The mechanisms by which this mutation might lead to motor neuron death were discussed by many of the international “big-hitters” in the field. Importantly, some labs are now beginning clinical trials of therapies to target this mutation. Click here to download a short summary by Dario.


Anna-Claire Devlin, a PhD student in Gareth Miles’ lab, greatly enjoyed discussing her research as she presented her poster on stem-cell derived motor neurons. She found the sessions on cell biology and molecular mechanisms the most interesting. There is now increasing awareness that glia, the supporting cells of the nervous system, play a role in motor neuron degeneration. Using neurons and glia made from stem cells can provide a useful way to study the complex interplay among different cell types. Click here to download a short summary by Anna-Claire.


Laura Stephenson is an MND Research Nurse. She was interested to learn that clinical care is very variable throughout the world, but was heartened to feel the spirit of collaboration and drive among the clinicians, researchers and patients themselves, united in their common purpose of understanding and ultimately defeating MND. Click here to download a short summary by Laura.

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