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Press Release - 08 March 2006

Scientists make an important discovery into causes of Motor Neurone Disease

Scientists have offered new hope for a cure for Motor Neurone Disease (MND) by identifying a gene that plays a key role in its development, according to research published in Nature Genetics.

MND is a highly debilitating disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. There is currently no known cure and life expectancy following diagnosis is usually just five years. Physicist Stephen Hawkings has, unusually, survived with MND for over 40 years.

An international team of researchers led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and involving Professor Ravi Acharya from the University of Bath, has discovered that mutations in the gene known as ANG lead to changes in a protein called Angiogenin.

Molecular modelling by Professor Acharya’s group suggests that these changes might stop the protein from carrying out its normal functions in the nervous system, including the control of new blood vessel formation and the regulation of activity within the cell nucleus.

“We do not yet know all the players in Motor Neurone Disease but the discovery of Angiogenin mutations will certainly contribute to an understanding how Motor Neurone Disease develops and hopefully lead to new treatments,” said Professor Acharya from the University’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry.

Mutated versions of the ANG gene were shown to be present in DNA samples taken from over 1,600 MND patients.

The recent study reported in Nature Genetics was the largest of its kind in MND, with international collaborating researchers from Belfast, Bath, Dundee, Birmingham, Boston and Umea in Sweden.

Professor Acharya’s group was the first to determine the 3-dimensional structure of Angiogenin in collaboration with Dr Robert Shapiro’s group at the Harvard Medical School, USA.

Work on the relationship between the structure and function of this family of genes is on-going. Using molecular genetic approaches, Dr Vasanta Subramanian and her group, also at the University of Bath, are investigating the function of Angiogenins in physiology and development.

The two groups at Bath, along with the group at Harvard, have been leading the research on Angiogenins over the last several years.


The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities, with an international reputation for quality research and teaching. View a full list of the University's press releases: http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/

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