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Motor neurone disease: how can we lengthen a very short straw?

Motor neurone disease emprisons people in their own bodies. How can we come up with more effective treatments?

If TV producers were making a programme called ‘Ten diseases you wouldn’t want to get’, motor neurone disease (MND) would probably top the list. In the 19th century it was known as ‘the creeping paralysis’ because it starts insidiously with muscle weakness in one limb or the throat, but becomes generalised. It progresses relentlessly until the affected person is unable to walk, feed or toilet themselves, speak, swallow and eventually breathe. A particular cruelty is that the intellect is usually left intact. People become trapped in a body that no longer does their bidding. The sense of hopelessness is so great that some people choose euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. MND is definitely a very short straw.

To make matters worse the diagnosis is difficult to make and there are no drugs that significantly alter the course of the disease. In desperation many people turn to unconventional and potentially dangerous therapies. Progress in developing more effective treatments has been slow because so little is known about motor neuron biology and the underlying disease mechanisms. Gene hunting has provided some important insights and prompted some researchers to propose gene therapy, gene silencing and stem cell transplantation but traditional pathways to drug discovery are also showing promise. Chris will help to sort out hype from hope and provide a clinicians view of how we might lengthen this very short straw.


Prof Chris Shaw | talks


Date and Time:

3 March 2006 at 8:00 pm


1 hour



Gower Street

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Organised by:

The Royal Institution of Great Britain
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£12 (Free for Ri Members)

Available from:

The Ri Events Team on 020 7409 2992 or www.rigb.org

Additional Information:

In association with UCL.

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