Over £800,000 for research into motor neurone diseases

April 2015

Over £800,000 in research funding was awarded to increase the understanding of motor neurone disease. Motor neurone disease is made up of a family of neurological disorders that affect motor neurons, the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle activity such as walking, speaking and swallowing. As the condition progresses, the motor neurone cells become damaged and eventually die. This leads to the muscles that rely on those nerve messages gradually weakening and wasting away. It is a rare condition that affects around two in every 100,000 people in the UK each year but there is currently no cure and life expectancy for about half those with the condition is only three years from the start of symptoms.


One of our generous donors, the late Irene Griffiths, wanted to help UK scientists to tackle these dreadful diseases and left a generous legacy in her will in memory of her parents, Harold and Ena Griffiths. We used these funds to support the research and careers of some of the UK’s brightest young researchers, who our experts believe will be the motor neurone diseases research leaders of the future:


  • Dr Tatyana Shelkovnikova from Cardiff University was awarded a fellowship to determine the protective function of a protein-bound structure to prevent pathological aggregation in ALS (the most common motor neurone disease). Dr Shelkovnikova said that: ‘There is mounting evidence that protein and RNA components of the paraspeckle are important players in pathogenesis of motor neuron disease, however, underlying mechanisms are still enigmatic. The MRF fellowship will allow me to fill this gap in our knowledge. This award is a unique chance and crucial step in my career: it gives the opportunity to fully concentrate on this problem while helping build up my track record and ultimately, establish as an independent researcher.”


  • Professor Samar Hasnain, Drs Svetlana Antonyuk and Gareth Wright from the University of Liverpool were awarded a research grant to investigate the changes in the structure of a protein known as superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD1) that renders it faulty in ALS. This award, Professor Hasnain says, will allow them to illuminate several areas of SOD1 biology they believe are critical in the pathogenesis of motor neuron disease.


  • Dr Bradley Smith from King’s College London was awarded a fellowship to investigate the role and biological mechanisms of two potentially pathological mutant genetic variants using zebrafish. Zebrafish are evolutionarily close to humans and are important model systems for studying neurological disorders. Dr Smith said that “The MRF fellowship is immensely valuable to my research as it will provide two key opportunities, firstly to address a fundamental issue in ALS genetics which is the critical evaluation of new gene candidates in an animal model to assess if mutations are detrimental to motor neuron function. Secondly, it will add highly specialized new skills to my professional tool kit and will provide a stepping stone to being an independent researcher in the ALS field.”