A group of researchers, led by Dr Adam Czaplinski, in Basel, Switzerland have measured the levels of the immune systems signalling molecules in spinal fluid. The results were published online on February 19 in the European Journal of Neurology. The researchers found that in MND patients the immune systems signals are more overactive than in other patients studied.

A group of researchers from the University of Verona has shown that the genes that control the immune system are switched on before symptoms appear in MND mice. The study published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology reported shrinkage of upper motor neurones (running from the brain to the spinal cord) and the "switching on" of surrounding immune cells such as astrocytes and microglia.

Thalidomide had shown great promise in a mouse model of MND but results in humans have been disappointing. It was thought that Thalidomide may have reduced the levels of immune signalling molecules in the brain. However, the study did not seem to find any significant decrease in the immune signals or any effect on the disease progression. In addition, it caused unwanted side effects.

Researchers in Mexico have taken cells from the bone marrow of MND patients and injected them back in to their brains in an attempt to stimulate new neuronal growth. Their findings were published in the journal Cytotherapy on 3 February 2009. The treatment is “a well-tolerated procedure” reports Dr Martinez and co-workers.

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