Stem cells are a normal part of all tissues in the body. They are characterised by their ability to renew themselves and to convert into a range of specialized cell types able to perform specific functions. There are many types of stem cells in the adult body. Each of these are limited to the types of cells that they can create.

Embryonic stem cells are shaping up to be a promising tool for treating a range of diseases from heart disease to MND. With this in mind a research group headed by Dr Ivan Velasko implanted embryonic stem cells that had been converted into motor neurones into rat spinal chords.

A protein involved in spinal muscular atrophy, called ‘survival motor neurone’ (SMN), has previously been shown to be low in sporadic MND patients. A research team led by Dr Bradley Turner from the Howard Florey Institute in Melbourne has studied the role of the loss of the SMN protein in mice with mutant SOD1 associated MND. They found that the loss of SMN resulted in the shortening of MND mice lifespan.

The tiny fruit fly has joined the fight against MND.  Fruit flies are estimated to share approximately 60% of the genes that make us human and have long been used as a tool to study the inheritance of genes. More recently fruit flies have been used as models of disease including Alzheimer’s disease and now MND.

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