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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Researchers at UOA Develop Groundbreaking Tool For Detection of Motor Neurone Disease

New Method Discovered in Collaboration with Edinburgh University


By James Wilson

Researcher Jenna Gregory. Photo Credit: UoA

The discovery was made after the team successfully applied a molecule known as an “aptamer”, typically used in cancer diagnosis, to instead detect MND in brain tissue samples. The molecule works to identify damaged cell proteins which may indicate the presence of the disease before the cells malfunction. This tool means that the disease can be detected before the onset of any physical symptoms in a patient.


An author of this particular study, Dr Holly Spence of the University of Aberdeen stated, “Our findings have implications for early diagnostics and intervention prior to symptom onset in MND. With better ability to detect the disease...


...we might be able to diagnose people with MND earlier, when therapeutic drugs might be much more effective.” 

Dr Fergal Waldron from the University of Aberdeen co-authored the study and added: “We are using the tool to uncover previously hidden insights into how MND makes people sick. Fundamentally, using this tool we have found out that toxic protein clumps are building up well before people show symptoms. This deeper understanding of the changes that happen in brain tissue at such an early stage has enormous potential for future research into the disease.” 


Dr Jenna Gregory, also of UOA, led this piece of research and predicts that the newly developed aptamer could trigger a step-change in MND research, supplementing or replacing some traditional antibody approaches for detection. 


Dr Gregory explains: “This tool ‘targets’ the disease protein and allows us to see where toxic clumps are building up in the body. It can do this for much lower amounts of disease proteins, and with greater accuracy than ever before.


This could be a game-changer for MND research, diagnostics and treatment.” 

The UOA team is currently being supported by the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, to licence the patented TDP-43 aptamer.


Around 5000 people in the UK are affected by motor neurone disease. The condition is caused by proteins inside the brain that accumulate and impair cell function, leading to the impairment of movement and cognitive ability, with the condition generally worsening over time. By using these new methods, the proteins can be detected at much lower levels and with higher accuracy, making earlier intervention possible and hopefully leading to more effective treatment.

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