Euan MacDonald Centre at the 2021 MND Association Symposium

International Symposium on ALS/MND logo

Today marks the start of the MND Association 32nd International Symposium on ALS/MND. This year's symposium is being held virtually because of the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

The International Symposium is the biggest annual conference dedicated to ALS and MND research. Over the next few days over 1000 delegates will gather online to share new understanding of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and motor neurone disease.

Many Euan MacDonald Centre members are attending the conference, and some of our postgraduate students and early career researchers are presenting their work on a poster, as follows:

Olivia Rifai

PhD student Olivia is presenting a poster titled ‘Random forest modelling of neuropathological features in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis identifies microglial markers as accurate pathological classifiers of C9orf72-related disease’. It describes a study that uses digital pathology analysis and machine learning to characterise factors that may influence disease heterogeneity in C9orf72-related ALS, such as inflammation and protein aggregation. Olivia's supervisors are Jenna Gregory and Chris Sibley.

Emily Beswick

Emily is a PhD student in Edinburgh supervised by Dr Suvankar Pal. The purpose of Emily's study was to improve our understanding of why people with a diagnosis of MND choose to participate, or not participate, in clinical trials of potential new drugs. Emily and colleagues will also look why individuals with MND who are participating in a clinical trial may stop participating in that trial. 120 people with MND, and their caregivers, completed a set of questionnaires and 12 months later the team will use information from MND-SMART to see if these people went on to participate in a clinical trial.

Jade Howard

Jade is a PhD student supervised by Prof Louise Locock in Aberdeen. The title of Jade's poster is 'It’s a big nugget of information that I don’t know what to do with: Information and support needs of people living at an increased genetic risk of MND'. Jade will present the results from a qualitative interview study on family experiences of inherited MND. Our study highlights that people living with an increased genetic risk of MND have a need for information and support in managing the impact of this knowledge. Jade and colleagues have identified six key areas around which people have a particular need for support.

Caroline McHutchison

Caroline, a postdoctoral researcher, will present findings from a collaborative project between the Universities of Edinburgh and Miami. The team used cognitive and behavioural data obtained using repeated assessment in the CReATe (Clinical Research in Related Disorders for Therapeutic Development) Consortium’s Phenotype-Genotype-Biomarker study to explore how these neuropsychological symptoms of MND change over time. We showed that a small number of people with MND had poor cognition at their first assessment. Although language, executive functioning did not significantly change over time, memory and visuospatial skills did show decline over time. Individuals who carried the C9orf72 repeat expansion and those with lower education were more likely to have this pattern of cognitive change. Behavioural symptoms were uncommon and fluctuated between visits. Our findings suggest that, if present, deficits in language, executive functioning and verbal fluency occur earlier in disease.

Anna Sanchez Avila

Anna is a PhD student based in Dundee. The team has access to human post-mortem tissue as well as patient information corresponding to each donor. What Anna has done is expand the dataset - which was done in two areas of the brain - the motor cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex - by studying the synaptic density and cortical thickness of Brocca’s area of the same cohort. Anna has done this using two complementary high-resolution imaging techniques - electron microscopy and array tomography - for synapse density analysis, and paraffin-embedded tissue for cortical thickness measurements. We also have access to the donors' ECAS test scores so we can stratify our dataset by ECAS performance.


In addition to these early-career researcher presentations, we are delighted that our Principal Investigator Prof Sharon Abrahams will be giving the keynote lecture in the Cognitive Change session. Sharon will be speaking on 'Measuring cognitive change in ALS/MND'.

Good luck to all our members presenting!

Related links

International Symposium website (external site)

This article was published on: Tuesday, December 07, 2021