The search for new risk genes and therapies to treat motor neurone disease (MND) is set to accelerate with the announcement of the $1.05 million MND Australia Ice Bucket Challenge Grant that will bring together clinicians and researchers from Australia’s leading MND centres.

This is the largest collaborative MND project to be undertaken in Australia. It will be led by Professor Naomi Wray of the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Queensland Brain Institute and Associate Professor Ian Blair of Macquarie University, NSW.

“Who would have thought that buckets of icy water would be such a powerful weapon against MND? We thank every one of the 30,000-plus soggy Australians who helped to catapult MND into the global spotlight and donated to advance MND research.” says Professor Matthew Kiernan, Chairman MND Research Institute of Australia Research Committee.  

"This collective goodwill has enabled the largest grant ever awarded by MNDRIA, which will underpin future research and allow people living with MND to benefit from advances made through genomic medicine.”

The Sporadic ALS Australian Systems Genomics Consortium (SALSA-SGC) comprises sixteen researchers from nine MND centres across Australia as well as international collaborators who will work together to build an integrated infrastructure for the collection and analyses of biological samples and clinical data. This pooled expertise will lead to a better understanding of the causes of sporadic MND.

According to Professor Wray the biology of MND is complex and poorly understood, but there have been important advances in MND research in the past five years.

“These advances have been driven, almost entirely, by gene discoveries from the small number of families with more than one affected individual,” she says.

For the vast majority of those with MND the diagnosis is sporadic, meaning they are an isolated case with no family history of the disease. 

Recent developments in technology have revealed that people with sporadic MND may have genetic changes that could be risk factors for MND. SALSA-SGC aims to collectively identify new risk genes through whole genome analysis.

"Each new risk gene that we identify tells us a little more about MND and is potentially a new therapeutic target," says Professor Wray.

Click here for more detail