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24th International Symposium on ALS/MND
Anna-Claire Devlin, PhD student in Gareth Miles’ lab
As a lab-based PhD student, my main interests were in the science oriented talks, of which
three sessions stood out for me: Neuronal Vulnerability in ALS, In Vitro Modelling and Glial
Biology and Pathology. The Neuronal Vulnerability in ALS session brought together studies
from the spinal cord, corticospinal tract and peripheral nervous system, with researchers
discussing the roles that membrane excitability, axonal size, axonal degeneration, cortical
interneuronal hyperexcitability and abnormalities of the peripheral nervous system play in
ALS. The In Vitro Modelling session was dominated by studies on human induced
pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and the types of neurons derived using this method, mainly
motor neurons and interneurons. The most recently discovered mutation associated with
ALS, the C9orf72 mutation, was heavily featured, with many researchers using iPSCs with a
C9orf72 mutation and experimentally determining if the mutation could be altered in such a
way it was no longer toxic using antisense oligonucleotides. The third session I found of
particular relevance was Glial Biology and Pathology. Oligodendrocytes and astrocytes,
types of glial cells, were discussed as they are thought to contribute to disease mechanisms
underlying ALS. Depending on the mutation associated with ALS, these glial cells either
affected the motor neurons they were surrounding in a deleterious manner (SOD1 G93A
oligodendrocytes) or no effects were detected (TDP-43 astrocytes). One study compared
sporadic ALS and familial ALS (SOD) astrocytes and found that although they are not linked
by genetic mutations, the process underlying their contribution to motor neuron death was
similar. Another highlight of the conference for me was presenting my work in progress
poster entitled “Investigating the pathophysiology of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis using
human induced pluripotent stem cell technology”. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to
other scientists and clinical staff and getting direct feedback from them and being asked
questions from a different perspective than my own. I’d like to thank the Euan MacDonald
Centre for supporting my registration to attend the conference.
(left) Anna-Claire presenting her poster on
stem cell-derived motor neurons.