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Our research is aimed at improving understanding of motor neuron diseases, principally amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), to find treatments to improve the lives of patients with these currently incurable conditions.

The oxford motor neuron disease centre

Overview

Motor neurons are cells which initiate and control voluntary movement. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the commonest form of motor neuron disease (MND) and the third commonest form of neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, is currently incurable. We now know that it arises for a complex set of reasons, including harmful genetic variants and environmental factors.

Research

Our research focuses on the early stages of the disease when we believe there is the most chance of applying effective treatments. In work led by Professor Talbot, we have created models of ALS, investigating the effect of human genetic mutations in mice and in motor neurons derived from stem cells grown from the skin of patients with ALS. In a complementary initiative, Professor Turner’s ‘BioMOx’ Programme is studying patients with advanced MRI scanning and biochemical monitoring (proteins in the blood and spinal fluid) to derive ‘biomarkers’.

Having established some promising approaches in patients with established disease, we are now developing ways of applying these techniques to people who carry genetic risk factors but who may be some years from developing the disease. Our ultimate aim is to identify the earliest changes which occur in the disease and apply protective therapies before the onset of significant disability in those at risk and those already living with ALS.

Anyone who either knows someone or works with patients with MND can understand the urgency of finding out more about the disease. The study is very organised and well explained with friendly, professional staff who were very thorough and patient. It was a pleasure to take part.An Oxford research volunteer

The foundation of our approach is that excellence in research comes from excellence in care. We are one of the major centres for international as well as UK ALS therapeutic trials. All patients attending the Oxford Motor Neuron Disease Clinic are also given the opportunity to engage in other vital research, through participation in genetic and biomarker studies. 

Selected publications