Dr Nicholas Cole and his research team at Macquarie University have made great progress in their journey to finding a cure or treatment for Motor Neuron Disease (MND). The team uses zebrafish, an established research model, in their laboratory to generate zebrafish models of the disease to understand how motor neurons die in MND patients. This is possible as zebrafish are transparent and, at a cellular level, have the same nerves and muscles as humans. This means that the degeneration of motor neurons can be seen in a living animal, giving clues into the biological origins of the disease.
The Snow Foundation provided equipment for the fish lab to assist establishment in 2009, and since then have supported the salary of Emily Don a scientist who has subsequently gained her honours degree and PhD. Together Dr Cole and Dr Don have generated good data enabling them to publish papers in high profile journals including Nature, Frontiers in Neuroscience and Nature Communications. The laboratory has expanded and now supports a full time fish room technician, and has more than 20 users including six PhD students who are currently studying in the laboratory.
The Snow Foundation are thrilled with the progress of the MND research but also the development and training of the next generation of young medical scientists such as Dr Emily Don who shares with us her insights:
“In addition to the significant increase my research output, I have made substantial steps towards training the next generation of medical scientists. In 2017 I am focusing on determining how the most common genetic cause of motor neuron disease, the C9orf72 repeat expansion, causes the loss of motor neurons. My aim is to generate zebrafish that contain long repeat sequences in order to study and understand the basic biological processes that result in motor neuron death.
Macquarie University has assembled the nation’s largest and first dedicated MND Research Centre with a specialised team of researchers in genetics, biochemistry, cellular biology and animal models. Our multidisciplinary team are collaborating and dedicating our working lives to better understand and beat MND.
I strive to keep contributing my very best and to maintain a position as in the MND Research Centre. As a young female early career research scientist, in an ever more competitive research funding environment, it is difficult to maintain continuous employment. Having The Snow Foundation support through my early career has enabled me to gain a foothold as a research scientist and provided the stability desperately needed to maximise the time invested in training me in the skills required to be a research scientist.”
Dr Nicholas Cole shows a MND patient the Zebrafish models used to try to understand the causes and cure MND.