On Tuesday 26th August our own VC took up the ALS #icebucketchallenge trending on social media with help from two of our researchers in the school. Ian Johnson and Viythia Katharesan. The VC was nominated by student Beau Brug.
Ian (senior lecturer) and Viythia (PhD candidate) are researching Motor Neurone Disease (MND), also known as ALS.
Two Australians per day die from MND. It is a condition of late middle age characterised by motor neurone (nerve cell) loss that leads to paralysis and death, usually within 2 years. The cause of MND is unknown, and the single drug licensed to treat it prolongs life by only 3 months. Many potential therapies for MND based on studies of immature animals have been tried. But they have all failed.
Ian and Viyth propose that this failure is due to the different survival requirements of immature- and mature- motor neurones. And this is the focus of their research at The University of Adelaide.
They have found that older motoneurones take longer to die after injury and that substances (neurotrophic factors) that are known to rescue immature motoneurones have different effects at different ages-sometimes not rescuing motoneurones at all. One of these factors is an isoform of Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) that is expressed by active muscle and has been termed Mechano-Growth Factor (MGF). They find that MGF rescues mature- but not immature- motoneurones from death. They also find that it does so by a different mechanism to that involving the commonly-used liver-type IGF-1. Liver-type IGF-1 has failed in clinical trials in MND. They are also looking at the effects of artificially-increased levels of inflammation on motoneuronal survival and rescue since ageing has been associated with a rise in levels of inflammatory molecules.
They hope their research on basic mechanisms underlying the survival and rescue of ageing motoneurones will allow new directions to be identified in the quest for a cure for MND.