Our 10th Centre Postgraduate Afternoon

Euan MacDonald Centre members watching a presentation in a lecture theatre

Jun 2019: Last week we held our annual Euan MacDonald Centre Postgraduate Afternoon, when our doctors and scientists get together to discuss the work of our early-career researchers. We also presented the Hampton Awards, for people who go 'above and beyond'.

The doctors and scientists who are members of the Euan MacDonald Centre get together twice a year for an afternoon of academic talks, discussions, networking and catching-up. The Summer meeting is focused on our early-career researchers, the postgraduates. The 2019 Postgraduate Afternoon was our tenth, and was held on Monday 3rd June.

There was a good attendance as always, with researchers travelling from across Scotland including several all the way from Aberdeen. The early-career researchers who presented their work were confident and articulate - they all did extremely well with what can be a nerve-wracking experience! The speakers have provided summaries below.

These meetings are a great opportunity for our members working in different cities and in different fields to get together and share ideas. Several new collaborations have resulted from meetings in the past, which have led to external grant funding and publication of new scientific findings.

Hampton Awards

At this meeting, we also presented the fourth year of the Hampton Awards. Named after the late Noel Hampton, father of one of our members, these awards are given not for academic success, but to the 'unsung heroes' who go above and beyond at work, perhaps helping colleagues, showing great dedication, or overcoming difficult personal circumstances. This year we were delighted to give the awards to Jamie Rose, Samantha Eaton and Jonathan Booth. Many congratulations to all!

Hampton Award winners 2019: (L-R) Jamie Rose, Samantha Eaton & Jonathan Booth, with Professor Siddharthan Chandran who presented the awards

Speaker summaries

Debbie Gray

Apathy is the most prevalent and debilitating behavioural symptom in MND and is comprised of three main subtypes (Executive, Emotional and Initiation). Our research aims to determine the impact of these apathy subtypes on wellbeing, quality of life and burden in people living with MND and their families. Our preliminary results show that Initiation apathy (i.e. a lack of motivation towards self-generated thoughts and/or actions) is characteristic in MND and is associated with increased burden and poorer wellbeing in carers. Future research should explore how these associations change  throughout the course of the disease.

Brenda Murage

A genetic mutation in a protein called VAPB has been found in people with a rare form of motor neurone disease called ALS8. In my project I am studying rats that have been engineered to carry this same mutation. I am testing their motor (movement) ability using exercise tests as well as looking for microscopic differences in the cells of these rats compared with rats that don't carry the mutation. We are using the rats as a model, to understand more about ALS8 and why people with this particular genetic change develop MND.

Claire Hetherington

The neuromuscular junction is the place where the motor neuron and muscle meet, allowing the brain to send signals to the muscles to tell them to move. In MND, the neuromuscular junction is the first part to become affected and so it is an important target for study. My project is to create a neuromuscular junction in the lab using human stem cells, which allows us to study the neuromuscular junction in people with MND, and test new drugs in a way that is repeatable and non-invasive.

Owen James

Many of the neurons in the central nervous system are wrapped in an insulating coat of myelin, which facilitate rapid transmission of neuronal messages and also provides critical support to the health of the underlying axon. In order to study how different disease-causing mutations affect myelin development, I have developed a three-dimensional, human stem cell-derived model of myelination that recapitulates the intricate formation of myelin, in a dish.

Danielle Leighton

I am undertaking a population-based clinical study of MND, hoping to answer questions about the impact of MND in Scotland (epidemiology), the types of MND that Scottish patients have, plus environmental influences (phenotype) and the genetic makeup of the participants (genotype). I am also examining how genetics influences the clinical manifestation of the disease. This project relies on the generosity and kindness of people living with MND in Scotland and we hope to use this information to guide future clinical trials.

Chris Henstridge

The loss of connections between brain cells is an early feature of MND and has been the focus of my academic career. Having observed a loss of these connections in the human MND brain during my postdoctoral work in Edinburgh, my goal now is to understand what is driving that loss, following the establishment of my own group in Dundee. In this talk I summarised my research findings and future plans, while also highlighting the influence the Euan MacDonald Centre has had on my trajectory from postgraduate to principal investigator.

This article was published on: Monday, June 10, 2019