‘Game changer’ test could spot signs of motor neurone disease earlier

‘Game changer’ test could spot signs of motor neurone disease earlier
  • PublishedMarch 28, 2024

The research has “exciting potential” to diagnose people earlier – which could make treatments more effective, says the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

A “game changer” test could detect signs of motor neurone disease (MND) before symptoms appear, according to scientists.

It can spot damaged cell proteins in samples of brain tissue – which are early indicators (biomarkers) of the disease.

Motor neurone disease – also known as ALS – is an incurable condition that affects the brain and nerves and causes muscle weakness that gets worse over time.

It can significantly shorten life expectancy and about 5,000 people in the UK are affected.

The new test is known as TDP-43 aptamer and has been developed by experts from the University of Aberdeen.

The university’s Dr Holly Spence said identifying MND as early as possible could make treatments more effective.

“With better ability to detect disease, we might be able to diagnose people with MND earlier, when therapeutic drugs might be much more effective,” she said.

MND is caused by a build up of certain proteins that clump together in the brain, causing the cells (motor neurones) to gradually stop sending messages to the muscles.

Symptoms can come on slowly, and early signs include slurred speech, a weak grip, weakness in the leg or ankle, weight loss and muscle cramps and twitches.

The new test could pick up indicators of MND earlier and with more sensitivity.

“This tool ‘targets’ the disease protein and allows us to see where toxic clumps are building up in the body,” said Dr Jenna Gregory, from the University of Aberdeen.

“It can do this for much lower amounts of disease proteins, and with greater accuracy than ever before. This could be a game changer for MND research, diagnostics and treatment.”

The Motor Neurone Disease Association said the research had “exciting potential for the development of new tests to help reduce diagnostic delay”.

“As treatment does not begin until the disease is diagnosed, earlier intervention will hopefully also mean that treatments are more effective,” said its research director, Dr Brian Dickie.


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