Motor Neurone Disease Research

Motor Neurone Disease: site of origin and patterns of disease spread
University of Sydney, NSW
Awarded 2016-  2018
Co-funded by The Rotary Club of Cronulla

“Motor neurone disorders (MND) are one of the most rapidly-progressive age-related diseases known to man.”

Researcher Profile

Dr. Thanuja Dharmadasa is a Neurologist who recently completed her Advanced Training in Neurology through the Royal Melbourne Hospital and The Alfred Hospital, Victoria.  Through this time she cultivated a particular interest in motor neurone disease, and is now commencing a PhD in this area under Professor Matthew Kiernan, University of Sydney.

Thanuja began her medical degree with a University of Tasmania Alumni Scholarship, receiving several research scholarships during her undergraduate years. Her other major passion is music, and she was successful in obtaining her Licentiate Diploma in Piano during high-school. Thanuja graduated medicine with First Class Honours for both degrees of Bachelor of Medical Sciences (BMedSci) and Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS).

Project Summary

Motor neurone disorders (MND) are one of the most rapidly-progressive age-related diseases known to man. However, the poorly understood disease factors, including the poor prediction of severity and disease prognosis, limit the development of adequate treatments, and cause more anxiety for families and patients.

This clinical study will use examination findings, nerve studies, brain imaging and genetic testing to try and differentiate the various subtypes of MND, develop markers of disease, and to better identify the site of onset and the spread of disease. Brain and spinal cord tissue from donor participants will be processed and analysed to understand the differences in the various clinical subtypes. The study will also use a series of MRI imaging and other nerve tracking techniques in patients to monitor and analyse disease progression. The nature of dementia and memory impairment that can develop in this disease will also be analysed with specific psychological and behavioural testing.

The goal of this clinical research will be to enable an early diagnosis, improve patient assessment and management, and provide new knowledge regarding nerve function in patients with motor degeneration. This overall insight will hopefully be able to advance the development of new treatment strategies.

Supervisor: Professor Matthew Kiernan

How will this research help people?

The ultimate goal for neurodegenerative research is to develop a platform for therapeutic intervention with disease-modifying therapies. This requires an understanding of the pathogenesis of the abnormality to be treated, as well as the ability to clinically identify the patient with this abnormality. Through the proposed detailed investigation, the goal will be to develop suitable biomarkers to differentiate the subtypes of MND in order to facilitate an early diagnosis and earlier prognostic determination. This will in turn facilitate more appropriate management pathways and strategies for patients, and through this, also significantly influence their quality of life.

The current research proposal will not only continue to build a substantive knowledge base of this clinical syndrome and contribute to the global research effort in this field, but inevitably provide new knowledge about fundamental central and peripheral nerve function in these patients. This knowledge and understanding will be used to guide the development of novel treatment strategies, which are currently lacking despite their overwhelming need.