Wednesday, 24 June 2015

New Models on the Catwalk


Recently I bought new running trainers – this entailed running on a treadmill in a shop window hoping nobody I knew was amongst the passers by. So why put myself through such a cheek-reddening fiasco? Well it was all to find trainers which suited my gait.

We all have different gaits and gait can be very informative, whether we’re trying to run faster, trying to prevent injury or even trying to detect disease. If someone has a neurological disease, their gait may be affected due to muscle weakness, muscle spasticity or neurodegeneration (lack of communication from the brain to the muscles). This is why we use gait analysis here in SITraN.

My current work includes the investigation of a new mouse model of Motor Neurone Disease, and to find out how representative these mice are of the human disease. One of the methods I’m using is called the catwalk (ironically). This is a very simple technique which we use to record footprints and subsequently analyse gait. We assign different colours to the right and left feet (red and green) and the front feet are brightly coloured, whilst the back feet are darker, as shown in the image below. 



Normal mice tend to place their back feet where their front feet were, whereas disease mice don’t, they have a shorter stride and take far more steps over the same distance. This information allows us to assess whether the mice have any instability or spasticity, which may be signs of disease.

Luckily for the mice, they get their gait analysed in a darkened room rather than in a shop window where others can see them!


By Jodie Stephenson

Jodie is a 2nd year PhD student investigating translational biomarkers in pre-clinical models of Motor Neurone Disease. Jodie is supervised by Dr Richard Mead and is part of the Shaw Research Group.


You can follow Jodie on Twitter @neuroruncake, LinkedIn and ResearchGate.






Thursday, 11 June 2015

Greetings from Dublin - ENCALS 2015


Being my first time at an ALS specific meeting and presenting my research as a post-doctoral scientist was a pretty daunting experience! However, ENCALS - the annual meeting of the European Network for the Cure of ALS - was the perfect place to undertake this challenge. I found the meeting friendly, informal yet informative with the atmosphere thriving on people’s desire to meet and share their research and scientific knowledge to everyone present.

Arriving into a very mild Dublin, we ventured through the busy city centre to arrive at the conference hall situated at the side of the ever famous Trinity College. We arrived as the opening session on genes and genetics was beginning so straight in with the nitty gritty of talks discussing topics on Next-generation Sequencing to dissect ALS pathology though to the potential genetic overlap between ALS and Schizophrenia. 

This session was followed by a session on cognition, the first of its kind at an ENCALS meeting with an interesting talk by R. Radokovic describing and comparing the apathy profiles in ALS, PD and AD. 


Following this was an evening of guided poster tours accompanied with cheese and wine. This was my time to step up and present my work to other delegates of the meeting, an opportunity for the experienced professional field to come over to my poster for discussion, evaluation and critique of my work! As a relative newbie to the ALS research field this experience was quite a test for me, however I surprisingly really enjoyed the session with many delegates coming over to my poster which allowed me to show off my research and discuss potential future research which I found quite easy and enjoyable to talk about (Once I got into it!). 
The session enabled me to gain ideas and also question my work and look at my research from an alternative manner and point of view. I did so much talking I could not finish my glass of wine instead opting for water! As a reward to myself we finished the evening with a well-earned glass of wine and a plate full of carpaccio…Success all round! 
Another fascinating session on C9orf72 and Novel therapeutics brought in the crowds on the Friday morning with a report on the Diaphragmatic Pacing in Motor Neurone Disease (DiPALS) clinical trial by Dr Christopher McDermott. This highlighted just how important human clinical trials are for medical devices as well as therapeutic agents and in this instance, understanding why this trial didn’t show any advantages to patients, despite positive effects in an earlier trial.

A session on imaging followed which went above and beyond my understanding, however some interesting and fascinating images of different brain regions were shown to highlight a proposed spreading mechanism in ALS. The session finished with an inspiring talk from Axel Freischmidt discussing serum microRNAs in sALS, an area that I am interested and working in. 


Following a very busy lunch, the afternoon started with a group of talks on TDP43/RNA metabolism and Disease followed by the final session of the day on models of Disease Pathogenesis which comprised of talks ranging from motor neuronal differentiation of human FUS-ALS induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) through to investigations of tight junction protein levels and barrier function of spinal cord barrier endothelial cells of presymptomatic hSOD1G93A mice.

The final sunny Saturday morning plenary talk was given by Dr Laura Ferraiuolo and coming from a glial background, it was nice to hear her discuss the involvement of not just the motor neurons in ALS but glial cells. She gave an impressive talk about iPSC and NPC development and glial cell differentiation, with the use of such technology for modelling sALS.

Top 5 ENCALS highlights 


1) My poster session was not as bad as I thought it would be – it was quite enjoyable with lots of ideas/suggestions and compliments made!

2) It was great to put faces to the names I had only read about or heard about in lab meetings.

3) I learned a lot about current ALS research that sometimes you can get lost in when working on your own research.

4) Recognising the variation of the type of research being carried out ranging from cell model work through to virally infected mice, the evaluation of human brain and CSF samples to trials in living patients – all vital in their own right!

5) Dublin is a beautiful city full of happy, outgoing friendly individuals…I will definitely be going back.


By Dr Rachel Waller
I am a post-doctoral researcher looking at potential biomarkers in ALS.
You can follow me on Researchgate and LinkedIn