Irish researchers have made a significant breakthrough in understanding how motor neurone disease (MND) develops in patients and how it might best be treated.
A team at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has identified four distinct patterns of electrical signal changes in the disease.
The ability to measure these changes will, they believe, allow a more sophisticated understanding of its progression and could help in identifying optimal treatments.
MND is a devastating condition that causes progressive paralysis, changes in thinking, increasing physical disability and ultimately death within an average of two to three years.
There are more than 500 people in Ireland with the condition, with a new diagnosis being made every three days. There is currently no effective treatment.
MND researcher and Trinity College professor of neurology Orla Hardiman said the breakthrough had delivered a data-driven quantitative measurement that would give certainty in understanding the illness in people and could help measure the effectiveness of future drugs.
"A major barrier to providing the right drug for the right patient in MND is the heterogeneity of the disease," Prof Hardiman said. "This breakthrough research has shown that it is possible to use patterns of brain network dysfunction to identify subgroups of patients that cannot be distinguished by clinical examination.
“The implications of this work are enormous as we will have new and reliable ways to segregate patients based on what is really happening within the nervous system in MND.”
The research, published in the journal Brain, has isolated four different patterns of brain network disruption, bringing scientists “one step closer to building better and more effective treatments for different sub-categories of the disease”.
The work was performed by Stefan Dukic at TCD's Academic Unit of Neurology under the supervision of Dr Bahman Nasseroleslami, Fr Tony Coote assistant professor in neuroelectric signal analysis.
Fr Tony Coote, after whom the professorship is named, walked the length of the country to raise money for MND research and care before his death in 2019 at the age of 55. He had been diagnosed with MND in March 2018.