Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notes from the International ALS/MND Symposium in Berlin

In December 2009, Prize4Life’s Scientific Program Officer, Dr. A. Sheila Menzies, was among the 900 ALS researchers, neurologists, clinicians, and caretakers who convened in Berlin for the 20th Annual Symposium on MND/ALS. The Symposium spanned three days and featured simultaneous sessions on ALS biomedical and clinical research.

The Symposium’s abstract book is available here. In addition to being a symposium guide, the booklet is a map of current ALS research, detailing the research landscape at the end of 2009.

Sessions covered a wide variety of relevant topics, ranging from discussions of proteinopathies to biomarkers to axonal transport. The proteinopathies session emphasized how the aggregation of mutated proteins in ALS patients is characteristic of other neurodegenerative diseases as (such as Alzheimer’s), suggesting a common disease mechanism (this topic was also recently covered in depth in a webinar organized by the Alzheimer Research Forum; find it here). A session on functional genomics explored the range of symptoms that may occur in ALS patients due to mistakes in the genetic code. A session on trial design showcased results of recent clinical trials, in the context of methodology, and encouraging trends in Knopp Neurosciences’ KNS-760704 Phase 2 clinical trial for ALS (read more on Knopp here and on ALS clinical trials here). The Biomarkers session predominantly featured discussions of protein-based ALS biomarkers.

A poster session saw several hundred people informally discussing their work with colleagues. Posters covered therapeutic strategies, human cell biology, epidemiology, and diagnostics, among other topics.

The clinical end of the spectrum hosted sessions on spiritual care, translating research discoveries into relevant care practices, information and conversations on exercise, metabolism, and nutrition, and a session on disease progression worked to increase audience understanding of current research focused on how to accurately portray expectations in terms of disease progression and life expectancy. A session on cognitive change explored the relationship between frontotemporal dementia and ALS, as well as covering cognitive assessments. A session on emerging disease models discussed options for identifying causes and developing therapies (see a related piece on the growing number of TDP43-based animal models here). The session on motor neuron biology provided in-depth conversation about the growth, development, and functioning of motor neurons themselves.

For more information on the sessions, see notes from the MND Alliance and ALS-TDI’s brief overview. Tune in to www.researchals.org for more in-depth scientific coverage of this and other meetings in the future

Professor Michael Strong, from the University of Western Ontario, is quoted on the MND Alliance’s site saying “The science has been very good this year. We are starting to see a real coming together of research work. No longer as research teams are we working in isolation but instead we are looking at ‘families’ of research ideas.”

Prize4Life was pleased to be present for these sessions, and for the opportunities to network and converse. We were also inducted into the International Alliance of MND/ALS Associations, at the annual Alliance meeting hosted by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Muskelkranke, held the week before the Symposium. Prize4Life joined the Alliance as an associate member, and is excited to be able to connect with such a respected body of organizations, exchanging information and participating in support fora with other ALS organizations worldwide.

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