Our projects are based at The Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital, The Wesley Hospital, The University of Queensland, and multiple national and international sites (hyperlinked to lab members). Our projects are funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Motor Neurone Disease Research Institute of Australia, the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital Foundation, Wesley Medical Research, The MND and Me Foundation, and The University of Queensland.

Given that no two MND patients are the same, the projects within our MEND research program are focussed towards gaining insights that will form the basis upon which we can develop metabolically-directed therapeutic strategies that are personalised to match the precise metabolic needs of individual MND patients.

Our projects are built on a diverse, collaborative and strong translational, transdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary research foundation. MEND spans the disciplines of neurology, neuroscience, pharmacology, endocrinology and metabolism, physiology, healthy ageing, genetics, and stem cell biology. If you are an enthusiastic, passionate, driven, and talented individual who is interested in joining our research program, please contact Shyuan.

Metabolic dynamics in human MND

There is increasing evidence to suggest that metabolic imbalance contributes to earlier death in MND. We are currently conducting a multi-centre study that assesses the energy needs of people living with MND.

Projects in this arm of our research program investigate whether an imbalance between energy use at rest, the energy cost associated with eating, digesting and absorbing energy from food, and the energy used during physical activity in MND patients can affect the rate of disease progression. Knowledge gained from these studies will allow us to identify novel targets that we can modify to help the body to sustain optimal energy needs throughout the course of disease. In the long-term, this will help us to develop rational strategies to improve energy balance in MND, which will ultimately improve prognosis for MND patients.

Metabolism and skeletal muscle pathology in MND

Our studies into energy needs in MND show that people living with MND use more energy than expected (this is commonly called “hypermetabolism”). We have also generated data to show that hypermetabolism in MND patients may be associated with increased energy needs in skeletal muscle, which itself is already energy demanding.

Using mouse models of MND, and biopsies of skeletal muscle from MND patients and non-MND control subjects, we are conducting the first studies that correlate the energy needs in skeletal muscle with the systemic energy needs of MND mice and each individual human participant. The mechanistic insights gained from these projects will allow us to determine whether metabolically directed treatment strategies should target skeletal muscle to improve muscle pathology, metabolic balance and prognosis in MND.

Developing models to understand and treat MND using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)

Neurones are particularly active cells that continuously send signals around the body; this large workload places a considerable metabolic load on the neurones. If the energy demands of the neurones are not met, they will ultimately falter, and die.

In this project, we are developing iPSC-derived neurones from MND and non-MND subjects to assess neuronal bioenergetics. Insights gained from these iPSC-derived neurones will allow us to determine the impact of neuronal bioenergetics on disease pathogenesis. Using these iPSC-derived neurones, we aim to develop a high-throughput platform that will allow us to screen potential therapeutic candidates in MND, with the view to prevent neuronal death and thus, halt or slow disease progression in MND.