Portrait no.22

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22 of 26 Professor Dame Pamela Shaw is a big hitter in the world of MND. She was made a dame in 2014 for her internationally recognised contribution to neurosciences, and particularly through the pioneering work she leads at SITran – The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience. “The first gene that was found to cause familial MND was back in 1993 and it’s called SOD1 – Not a bad name for a disease that causes MND! That gene code is for a protein whose normal function is to scavenge the free radicals that we produce as our cells are generating energy. There are now about thirty genes we’ve found that can cause MND. A tiny change in one building block of the SOD1 gene causes familial MND. At SITran we’ve shown that if you knock out that SOD1 gene with gene therapy you can just about cure mice of MND and the mice remain fine because there are other proteins that can do the same job. We are doing a human trial. There are various ways of doing gene therapy. One, which is the method we used in the mice, is to use a viral carrier (or vector) where the virus is harmless but we put inside the viral carrier a molecule and when it gets into the nervous system it knocks down the level of SOD1. In Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), which is a childhood form of MND, that viral vector has been used to knock out SOD1 in children with SMA in a US trial. Children with SMA usually die of their MND within 2 years of being born. One dose of that viral vector and those kids are now normal toddlers so it’s fantastic! It will come for adult MND as well shortly I hope. In the meantime there’s a way of injecting a substance known as ASO. A lumbar puncture injection of this and that knocks down the SOD1 gene. It’s an international study and SiTran is the UK site. We’ve been doing it for about 18 months. The first two patients that we put into the trial have been sending videos of themselves walking up the garden steps that they hadn’t been able to do for three years. I’ve done probably twenty-four new treatment trials in MND and I have never ever heard people say they have improved before in a trial.” To help donate here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/26miles4mnd

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