Research – hope for the future
This month, our guest writer John Telford, a member of the Trust’s Scientific Advisory Panel, writes about research into MSA.
The term ‘research’ covers a lot of things because it not only covers finding a cure for MSA. It also covers research into the best treatments and the best ways to get to grips with social issues such as keeping active and engaged despite increasing mobility and communication problems.
MSA occupies a very unfavourable position in the neurological spectrum. It’s not as prevalent as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s which receive the bulk of the funding for research. There are some large organisations which ensure that awareness of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is promoted publicly and this leads to some very successful fundraising for research and care.
But it’s not all bad news for MSA because MSA has a lot in common with these other diseases. Many neurological diseases are protein-misfolding diseases. To put this in simple terms, in each of these diseases one or two proteins – of which we have tens of thousands of different types in the cells of our bodies – fold up in an abnormal, damaging way and are not removed by the normal ‘garbage disposal’ mechanisms and they accumulate.
This has been known for some time and it has also been known for a while that a particular protein which goes by the name of alpha-synuclein is involved in several neurological diseases including, notably, MSA and Parkinson’s. Why is this significant? Because progress in cracking the problem in Parkinson’s could help crack it in MSA too. There are literally hundreds of people doing research into Parkinson’s so there is the real prospect of there being some spin-off to benefit MSA research. And it’s very positive that the same people often work on both diseases.
Over the last three or four years there has been some very hopeful progress which has given some new insights into diseases like these and how they progress through the nervous system. I’d like to go into some of these details in further blogs. But to keep things brief this time I just want to say that prospects are looking promising. There are several research projects going on which appear to be discovering drugs that can arrest the aggregation of alpha-synuclein. If so, that holds out the hope of stopping someone’s Parkinson’s from progressing any further (although it might not be able to reverse it). With luck this could apply to MSA too even though different sets of brain cells are affected in the two diseases.
To me this is an exciting time – albeit a race against time for many.
John sits on the Scientific Advisory Panel of the MSA Trust largely as someone who has known MSA from the personal perspective as his late wife had it for 12 years. By dint of gaining a PhD in organic chemistry back in the 1960s he has been able to take an interest in the scientific basis of conditions like Parkinson’s and MSA and has written a lot about the former in particular for Parkinson’s UK, endeavouring to translate technical details into accessible explanations in everyday language.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the blogs published on these pages are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the MSA Trust.