Rowling Scholar's research provides exciting new focus for potential MND drug treatments

Arpan sat at a bench in the lab

January 2021: Motor neuron disease treatments that boost energy in nerve cells could be developed thanks to new research from Dr Arpan Mehta.

A laboratory study led by Rowling Scholar Dr Arpan Mehta, has shed light on how the damage to nerve cells caused by MND can be repaired by improving the energy levels in mitochondria – the power supply to the motor neurons. 

Dr Mehta and his colleagues have discovered that, in human stem cell models of MND, the axon, the long part of the motor neuron cell that connects to the muscle, is shorter than in healthy cells. Also the movement of the mitochondria, which travel up and down the axons, is impaired.

The scientists showed that this was caused by a defective energy supply from the mitochondria and that by boosting the mitochondria, the axon reverted back to normal. The films below illustrate this effect.

The results of the study are now being used to look for existing drugs that boost mitochondrial function and may be able to be repurposed to treat MND.

Alongside Arpan (pictured), the study was led by Dr Bhuvaneish Selvaraj and Professor Siddharthan Chandran. All are members of the Anne Rowling Clinic and the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research at the University of Edinburgh.

The Rowling Scholars scheme, that Arpan is part of and allowed him to develop his research and this discovery, is our flagship PhD fellowship scheme for aspiring top clinical academics in any field related to regenerative neuroscience. The scholarship fits with one of the main focuses of the Anne Rowling Clinic - supporting and encourage the next generation of research leaders.

The scheme allows doctors to partly step out of their clinical practice and work in research with pioneering state-of-the-art approaches to problems that would have seemed insurmountable only a few years ago. Through using stem cell models, Arpan is helping to tackle MND for which there is currently no cure. 

Dr Arpan Mehta, Lady Edith Wolfson Fellow and PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The importance of the axon in motor nerve cells cannot be overstated. Our data provides hope that by restoring the cell’s energy source we can protect the axons and their connection to muscle from degeneration. Work is already underway to identify existing licensed drugs that can boost the mitochondria and repair the motor neurons. This will then pave the way to test them in clinical trials.”

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research, My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, UK Dementia Research Institute and Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic.

Time-lapse films

The following time lapse films showing mitochondria travelling along an axon in a motor neuron (nerve cell).

Film 1a – from a healthy motor neuron.

Film 1b - from a damaged motor neuron with an MND gene.

Film 2 -  from a damaged motor neuron with an MND gene after boosting the mitochondria.


Related links

Full published research article

Dr Arpan Mehta

Dr Bhuvaneish Selvaraj

Professor Siddharthan Chandran

Rowling Scholars

The Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research

Medical Research Council

MND Association

My Name'5 Doddie Foundation

UK Dementia Research Institute

This article was published on: Tuesday, January 12, 2021