An innovative test that can identify early indications of motor neurone disease (MND) even before the onset of symptoms has been labeled a ‘game changer’ by the team of scientists behind its development.

The tool, known as TDP-43 aptamer, can detect protein damage in brain cells. According to researchers, these proteins serve as potential early warning signs of MND, capable of being detected before the cells start to falter and symptoms begin to emerge.

The scientists assert that identifying the disease at these initial stages could allow for more effective intervention and treatment strategies.

Dr Holly Spence, from the University of Aberdeen, commented, “Our findings have critical implications for early diagnostics and intervention strategies prior to symptom onset in MND. With a more nuanced ability to detect this disease, we might be able to diagnose patients with MND at a much earlier stage, where therapeutic strategies might be significantly more effective.”

In the UK, MND impacts approximately 5,000 people. While there is no cure for the condition currently, various treatments can help in managing its effects on a person’s daily life. Motor neurone disease culminates in cell degradation due to a build-up of certain proteins in the brain. The disease gradually progresses, leading to impaired physical movement, cognitive function, and breathing.

The researchers assert that their testing tool could provide early and more seensitive indication of MND in comparison to current diagnostic methods.

Dr Jenna Gregory, also from the University of Aberdeen, expressed “This innovative tool targets the disease at the protein level and allows us to identify where toxic protein clusters are forming in the body. The tool can detect much smaller amounts of disease proteins with a astounding level of accuracy. This could revolutionise the landscape for MND research, diagnostics and treatment.”

The research received financial support from Target ALS and is published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

Dr Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, upon reflecting on the research stated, “It typically takes a year from initial symptom onset to receive a diagnosis of MND. This groundbreaking research into the early cellular changes in MND offers significant potential for the development of new diagnostic tests, aiming to reduce the long wait for diagnosis.”

Jessica Lee, director of research at the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, a charity started by late Scottish rugby union player Doddie Weir, added to the discussion stating, “Motor neurone disease is a devastating condition. Although there are currently no effective treatments available and there are often long delays in diagnosis, research continues to move forward. Many potential treatments are now under scrutiny within laboratory settings and in clinical trials. We require robust biomarkers of disease to support these trials and speed up diagnosis so treatments can begin earlier in disease progression. This trailblazing new technology offers the promise to achieve exactly that objective.”

Keep yourself updated with the latest developments in and around Glasgow. Sign up to our daily newsletter..