a doctor and patient sitting at a table smiling and looking at information on a tablet computer

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Towards new drug treatments

Towards new drug treatments

Research to find drug treatments that slow, stop or even reverse MND.

A drug that slows the progress of MND. Even better, a treatment that stops the progress of MND or even promotes repair. This is what most people with MND want, and it is our ultimate goal too.

How we do this research

At the Euan MacDonald Centre, we believe that rigorous scientific research is the only way to ensure no opportunity is missed or stone unturned in our search for a cure. All our research is based on solid and hard-won evidence.

This is why most of our research towards new drug treatments takes place in the lab, studying cells and the intricate mechanisms that go on within them (read more in our ‘Understanding motor neurons’ theme). This knowledge will be invaluable in developing new ‘designer’ drugs that might slow or halt MND, but it is inevitably slow.

Large-scale screening

While cell research is ongoing, we’re taking two additional approaches that work much faster. Firstly, we are testing thousands of ‘small molecules’ that we obtain from pharmaceutical companies. If one of these small molecules changes the rate at which a neuron in a dish dies, or makes a zebrafish spinal cord repair faster, perhaps it might work in people. We use hi-tech robots and automated imaging to speed things up still further.

Repurposed drugs

The second approach we are taking is lining Scotland up for clinical trials of repurposed drugs. Repurposing means using a drug for a different condition that is already safety-tested and approved for use in people. This can save 5 years, and it’s a lot cheaper too!

Repurposing is already being used in clinical trials, for example the ongoing MS-SMART trial in multiple sclerosis. We are currently using 'text-mining' technology to screen thousands of scientific reports to help us decide which existing drugs might work in MND.

Making a difference

The first gene therapy for motor neurone disease

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an infant-onset form of MND. Because scientists have pinpointed the exact genetic error that causes SMA, progress towards treatments is relatively advanced.

Meet the researchers

Watch MSc student Pratap Harbham talking about his research setting up drug screening on stem cell-derived motor neurons.