Scientists in the UK have launched the first stem cell project for the study of a devastating and progressive disease, which affects brain and spinal cord nerves that control muscles in the body.
In the incurable condition, brain and spinal cord nerves that control muscles steadily die off, leaving people paralysed and unable to talk or breathe. Patients can only breathe with the aid of a mechanical ventilator.
The research, which is being led by Sir Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh-based creator of Dolly the cloned sheep, will use stem cells to make diseased and healthy brain cells, to study how motor neurone disease (MND) progresses into a lethal condition.
The research will open up a window into a condition that is almost impossible to study in living patients and could be the best long-term hope for doctors to find treatments for the condition.
The condition takes a toll of 50 per cent of the patients within three years of a diagnosis and around five deaths are reported from the condition in Britain alone every day. One of the longest-living survivors of the condition is Stephen Hawking, the 68-year cosmologist diagnosed at the age of 21.
Wilmut's team at Edinburgh will work with scientists in London and New York to understand the processes responsible for the death of nerve cells and the spread of the disease to healthy parts of the brain and the central nervous system.