October 22, 2020

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UOW researchers receive funding to develop tech to fight MND

Researchers from the University of Wollongong and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute have received a share of $1.5 million from FightMND to further investigate the causes and treatments for motor neurone disease (MND).

MND is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes motor neurons, the pathways between the brain and muscles, to degenerate and die. The disease develops when proteins in the body become misshapen, clump together, and block the pathways. MND is rapidly progressive and leaves patients with the inability to walk, talk and eventually breathe.

A professor at the University of Wollongong has received a $1 million Drug Development Grant to further his research into the condition, which focuses on a potential new therapeutic strategy. The Professor said the grant will fund a post-doctoral researcher and a research assistant, to test a combination therapy that they hope will be effective in familial and sporadic MND.

The scholars believe that a three-pronged approach targeting distinct and complementary aspects of the underlying molecular causes of MND will be a more effective approach. The researchers were also awarded a $250,000 Impact Grant over two years to investigate the deposits that cause MND.

Both scholars will use the funding to utilise a new form of technology that takes a closer look at single protein molecules. They plan to use these technologies to look at the toxic proteins that build up in MND patients and want to define how the shape of the proteins may give rise to MND and characterise differences between patients.

By knowing the shape that these proteins take, the researchers can identify specific parts of the proteins to target with therapies. They not only want to examine the potential causes, but also the potential treatments for MND. In the next phase of the investigation, they hope to see improvements in their research output and also in their capability to examine drugs for translation into patients.

In addition, an Associate Professor was awarded $250,000 over two years to fund stem cell research, investigating whether electrons could reverse the effects of cells affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a specific type of MND.

According to MND Australia data from 2015, an estimated 2000 Australians are living with MND. With 400 new sufferers being diagnosed each year, the numbers of existing patients remain low due to the rapid mortality induced by MND. There is currently no known cure or effective treatment for the condition.

All grant funding was provided by FightMND, a not-for-profit group that funds and supports research into the disease. The group recently announced a commitment of $10.68M in a major funding boost to MND research to propel the fight to find effective treatments and a cure for the disease, with 16 individual new research projects with some to begin as early as October 2020.

This commitment takes the total funds invested in MND research initiatives by FightMND to $48.45 million since the Foundation began in 2014.

Among the new projects funded are eight IMPACT grants which support projects aimed at improving and accelerating the process of bringing new treatments to Clinical Trials while seven Drug Development projects and one Clinical Trial also feature among the projects funded.

One of the impact projects under the funding scheme is for the development of blood-brain barrier penetrating peptides by a doctor at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health within the University of Melbourne.

This project aims to address this critical issue by developing a drug delivery platform technology for safe and efficient drug delivery into the brain and spinal cord. The effectiveness of this drug delivery system will be tested by delivering three different classes of drugs into the brain and spinal cord.

The expected outcomes of this project will be a safe and innovative drug delivery technology that allows drugs to reach their targets at sufficient amounts to achieve the desired therapeutic effects.

Additionally, this delivery system is minimally invasive compared to current technologies, such as intrathecal injection, currently being used in the clinic. Overall, the outcomes of this project will have a significant potential to provide therapeutic benefit for this devastating neurodegenerative disease.