Robotics to combat motor neurone disease

New robotics and lab facilities at Flinders will add power to the University’s vital role in the global fight against motor neurone disease.

Supported by FightMND funding, the expanded facility will help South Australia’s leading MND research group to fast-track testing the validity of the world’s first urine biomarker for the disease which has no cure.

MND researcher Dr Mary-Louise Rogers says the novel urine test developed at Flinders is helping to expedite the efficacy of new drug interventions, and even potentially an early-warning test or one day a cure, for the deadly neuro-degenerative disease.

One in 400 Australians will be diagnosed with MND (also known as ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) during their lifetime. Reliable diagnosis occurs late in disease progression, resulting in irreversible nerve damage. The average life expectancy is only 27 months from diagnosis in Australia.

There are no cures. Treatments are very few in number and limited in effect.

Biomarkers help to track disease progression and aid in the development of therapies by providing a readout of whether or not the therapy is effective.

The high-through-put screening facility will assess MND patients’ response to new therapeutics under development around Australia.

MND patient Stuart Verrall, left, visits the new robotics lab with international researcher Professor Julian Gold, centre, Flinders University’s Dr Mary-Louise Rogers and SA Health neurologist Dr David Schultz.

“There is an urgent need for a validated biomarker for MND that also tracks disease progression, especially in clinical trials of potential therapies, as there are none for MND,” says Dr Rogers, senior research fellow at Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health Centre for Neuroscience.

“Along with the studies at Flinders, the urinary marker p75ECD is being used in a number of new clinical trials.

A recently completed phase IIA trial of an anti-retroviral treatment, known as the Lighthouse trial and led by Professor Julian Gold (Sydney University and University of London), is now going to a much larger multi-site and multi-country phase III trial.

The Flinders lab and urinary marker p75ECD will also support the largest ever MND trial in Australia, the phase III Tecifidera trial, as well as another trial (Copper-ATSM), which both also receive funding from FightMND

Professor Julian Gold, visiting the upgraded MND Biomarker Facility at the University lab at FMC, says the new facility will speed up testing for efficacy in future large clinical trials.

“People’s lives depend on researchers coming up with answers, sooner rather than later,” Professor Gold says.

“We are pleased that Flinders is helping to assess potential treatments as early as possible, and is an internationally respected centre for this work.”

The latest paper on Professor Gold’s ‘Lighthouse’ trial has been published – ‘Safety and tolerability of Triumeq in amyotropic lateral sclerosis: the Lighthouse trial, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Degeneration ’ (2019) by Julian Gold, Dominic B. Rowe, Matthew C. Kiernan, Steve Vucic, Susan Mathers, Ruben P. A. van Eijk, Avindra Nath, Marta Garcia Montojo, Gina Norato, Ulisses A. Santamaria, Mary-Louise Rogers, Andrea Malaspina, Vittoria Lombardi, Puja R. Mehta, Henk-Jan Westeneng, Leonard H. van den Berg and Ammar Al-Chalabi – DOI: 10.1080/21678421.2019.1632899

The urinary protein75ECD developed at Flinders University is currently the only biological-fluid-based biomarker of disease progression. A standardised, easy-to-collect urine test can be used to more accurately check progression of the disease to more accurately check whether new treatments are effective or ineffective.


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College of Medicine and Public Health