Associate Professor Ronald Sluyter

Motor neurone diseases (MND) are caused by the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control movement and bodily functions.

The most common form of MND is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS can strike anyone, at any age, and it can progress very quickly. Eventually, all muscles under voluntary control are affected, and individuals lose their strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body.

Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure within three to five years from the onset of symptoms. However, about 10 per cent of those with ALS survive for 10 or more years.

With the incidence of MND in Australia increasing over the past decade, there is a renewed push to find a cure, and new ways to halt its progression to improve quality of life for sufferers.

IHMRI researcher Associate Professor Ronald Sluyter from the University of Wollongong’s School of Biological Sciences is an internationally recognised expert on the P2X7 receptor ion channel and is striving to uncover new treatments for ALS.

He has been awarded a grant-in-aid from the Motor Neurone Disease Research Institute of Australia of $99,868 for a new study on the P2X7 receptor ion channel in the brain. His co-investigator on the project is Associate Professor Justin Yerbury, an internationally recognised expert on ALS.

“ALS remains incurable, with clinical drug management limited to the only approved drug, riluzole. However, this drug has modest improvement on survival. There is an urgent need for new therapeutics in ALS,” states Associate Professor Sluyter.

The project will provide more insights into two crucial questions; whether the P2X7 communication pathway between motor neurons and other cells of the central nervous system contributes to ALS progression, and secondly, whether a pharmacological blockade of the P2X7 receptor channel with an antagonist, JNJ-47965567, enhances survival and improved motor performance.

“JNJ-47965567 is a potent antagonist which can cross the blood brain barrier. Other studies have shown its potential for treating epilepsy and neuropathic pain.”

In our preclinical trial we want to see whether it can halt the progression of ALS,” explains Associate Professor Sluyter.

This vital research will provide further insight into the mechanisms in MND and assist in planning possible drug trials in people with MND.

The MND Research Institute of Australia is the national body for people living with MND. The organisation promotes optimal care outcomes for people living with MND and enables research to identify the cause of MND and ultimately find a cure. The MND Research Institute of Australia has awarded $3.75 million to support research in 2017.

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