The Centre for MND Research is home to Australia’s largest clinical and research program in MND and related disorders (including frontotemporal dementia). We represent a cross-disciplinary ecosystem that includes Australia’s largest MND clinic, together with laboratory research seeking to understand the molecular origins of MND and developing new treatments for evaluation through clinical trials.
In early 2013, the MND research program was developed to form the laboratory research pipeline to link with Professor Dominic Rowe’s MND clinic, which was one of the first clinics that opened when Macquarie University Hospital launched in 2009. We bring together some of Australia’s leading MND experts, each with complementary skillsets, allowing us to collectively build an integrated workflow aimed at producing breakthrough advances in understanding the origins of MND and to develop new treatments.
As of April 2017, the MND research program now hosts more than 70 full-time researchers. The majority of staff are externally funded through successful grants, to further accelerate and enhance our research impact. We have established Australia’s (and one of the world’s) largest longitudinal MND biobank, to which patients and their families generously provide samples (including blood, skin biopsies, urine and hair) during their regular clinic visits.
We have received one of only six NHMRC Dementia Teams Grants ($6.5M from 2016-2020), and our researchers are CIs on eleven current NHMRC Projects and two current ARC Discovery Projects. Over the past three years our researchers have co-authored multiple high-impact publications in Nature, Science, Nature Genetics, Nature Neuroscience and Nature Communications. Importantly, we also lead two Australian-instigated clinical trials for MND, offering hope of better treatments for people living with MND.
The Multidisciplinary MND Service
Led by Professor Dominic Rowe AM, our clinical team treats 10 per cent of all Australians living with MND, and our integrated approach means all patients have access to expert neurological care as well as to a range of allied health professionals – all in one location.
The Macqaurie MND Biobank
We invite our patients and their families to join the fight against MND by supplying DNA and tissue samples that are stored for ongoing analysis in the Macquarie MND Biobank. Our biobank is the centrepiece of our research program and is the largest of its kind in Australia, with more than 17,000 samples collected since 2013.
The Genetics Team
Led by top geneticist Associate Professor Ian Blair, this team has been involved in most of the major MND genetic advances identified to date. We are involved in the global campaign to identify new genes in familial forms of MND and are part of Project MinE, an international collaborative effort to identify the genetic factors in sporadic MND.
The Biomarker and Cellular Stress Team
Associate Professor Julie Atkin leads investigations into the cellular responses to stress, and how these responses may enable early detection of injured motor neurones. Identifying biomarkers that reflect the disease process is critical to monitoring potential therapies once available in the clinic.
The Protein Aggregation Team.
Neuroscientist Professor Roger Chung leads a research program that aims to understand why particular proteins are prone to aggregation in neurodegenerative diseases. These aggregated proteins interfere with the normal function of neurones, and the goal of this research is to identify treatments that prevent this aggregation or improve clearance of these destructive proteins.
Neuroinflammation and Neurotoxicity Team
Professor Gilles Guillemin is leading a team of researchers studying the involvement of tryptophan (an essential amino acid) in MND. How the metabolism of this amino acid changes to promote neuroinflammation and neuronal damage is likely to be critical in developing therapies for MND. In addition, Professor Guillemin is working with international partners to identify potential environmental triggers in MND, such as blue-green algae.
The Zebra Fish Team
Led by Dr Angela Laird, this research team is focused on understanding how motor neurones die using the faulty genes that are identified in some patients with genetic or familial MND. Understanding how these genes cause motor neurone cell death is critical for the development of therapies.
Macquarie is undertaking two trials designed to significantly prolong the survival of MND sufferers. The Lighthouse trial is repurposing an HIV therapy to see if it can slow or stop activation of endogenous retroviruses in sporadic MND, the most common form of MND. The second trial, a world first, is testing a novel compound, developed in Australia, called Copper-ATSM to see if it can redress the imbalance of metals that occurs in the brain of patients with familial MND or sporadic MND. Our hope is to commence a third trial in the near future using a therapy called 3K3A-APC to address the inflammatory response implicated in MND.