Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Research: Motor Neurone Disease Breakthrough

(Pictured: Dr Mary-Louise Rogers has made a breakthrough in Motor Neurone Disease research)


Ground breaking, world-first research out of Flinders University has uncovered the first biomarker for Motor Neurone Disease progression - a giant step for developing better treatments, or even a cure, for the disease.

Following six years of work, Flinders University Researcher Dr Mary-Louise Rogers found that a protein in the urine of people with Motor Neurone Disease changes as the disease progresses.

This finding has been published in the prestigious journal Neurology.

Dr Rogers said the world-first discovery of this long sought after biomarker means it may now be possible to accurately determine if medications tested in clinical trials are effective.

“In the future we will be able to accurately measure if the new marker level is going up, down, or remaining stable when testing drugs in clinical trials, which will speed up the process for finding out if these drugs are working or not,” Dr Rogers said.

“This will have huge benefits for people with MND, as effective drugs for treatment may be identified much earlier than previously possible.”

A collaboration with Dr Michael Benatar from the Miami University (USA) enabled the biomarker to be tested on MND patients from both Australia (at the MND Clinic based at the Repatriation General Hospital and Flinders Medical Centre) as well as the USA.

Until now, to measure MND disease progression and effectiveness of medications, clinicians have relied mostly on a questionnaire given to patients to form a score on a functional range scale. However this process is subjective.

“What people have been looking for is something they can measure from either the blood or traditional cerebral spinal fluid method but none of the markers identified so far change with disease progression,” Dr Rogers said.

“We looked in the urine and found a particular protein that comes from nerves, and as people progress with the disease there’s more of this protein present – not only does this provide an accurate measurement but urine is easily accessible.”

Motor Neurone Disease is a rapidly progressing neurological disease for which there is currently no cure. At any point in time more than 1,400 Australians are living with MND.

This incredible discovery marks six years of hard work for Dr Rogers, and Stephanie Shepheard – whose research on this as a PhD student led to a position in the UK laboratory of Professor Dame Pam Shaw, the leading UK Neurologist and Researcher on MND. Stephanie is continuing to work on biomarkers for MND in collaboration with Flinders University.

Funded by Flinders Foundation, The ALS Association (US), MND Research Institute of Australia, and the National Institute of Health (US), Dr Rogers said this multi-continent research was a prime example of the breakthroughs seeding grants can lead to.

“Flinders Foundation’s grant helped me to start this work and generate enough data to go and present at a conference in Chicago where lots of people got involved…it just snowballed from there and this is only the beginning,” she said.

Flinders Foundation recently provided Dr Rogers with a further seeding grant to explore whether a MND biomarker also exists in the blood.

Flinders Foundation Chief Executive Officer Amanda Shiell said seeding grants provided researchers with the opportunity to make an incredible difference in the long term.

“Flinders Foundation is investing in the research of today to help researchers drive the breakthroughs of tomorrow.  Our seed funding program is a critical pathway for advancing research in South Australia,” Amanda said.

To support researchers like Mary-Louise Rogers to make the breakthroughs of tomorrow, donate to Flinders Foundation here or contact (08) 8204 5216.

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