Motor neurone disease
Motor neurone disease (MND), sometimes referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) , is the name given to a group of progressive neurological conditions where specific nerve cells, or neurons, don't work normally.
This leads to increasing physical disability, as muscles are unable to receivee messages from the neurons to move or activate. Without these signals, muscle weakness, wasting and paralysis develop.
MND usually develops quickly once symptoms begin, with an average life expectancy of 2-3 years from diagnosis. It can affect anyone, at any age, but usually develops in people over the age of 40.
Early symptoms may be mild and include:
- Stumbling due to weakness of the leg muscles
- Difficulty holding objects caused by weakness of the hand muscles
- Slurring of speech or swallowing difficulties due to weakness of the tongue and throat muscles
- Cramps and muscle twitching.
As the disease progresses symptoms may include:
- Reduced mobility and independence due to muscle weakness and paralysis
- Impaired speaking and communication
- Breathing difficulties from reduced lung capacity caused by muscle weakness
- Fatigue caused by muscle exhaustion, decreased lung capacity, metabolic changes, weight loss and reduced food intake
- Insomnia caused by discomfort, pain from stiff joints and muscles, excessive saliva, dry mouth or breathing problems
- Changes in cognitive skills and processes and/or behavioural change in 50% of MND cases
- Frontotemporal dementia which occurs in 15% of MND cases
- Excessive laughing or crying due to emotional lability and cognitive change
List of symptoms by MND Australia
Each day in Australia two people are diagnosed with MND, and two people die
Average life expectancy is 2.5 years
More than 2,000 people have MND in Australia, of whom 60% are male and 40% are female
Causes and treatment
There is no known cause of MND. While genetics are thought to play a part in approximately 10% of cases, research continues to try and establish whether environmental, lifestyle and ageing factors could also play a part.
While there is no cure for MND, there are treatments that can improve symptoms, and help maintain quality of life. It is important for someone with a diagnosis of MND to work with a neurologist when deciding what the best treatment options may be.
The drug riluzole may increase survival by two to three months. Other forms of treatment may include gastrostomy, respiratory interventions, speech pathology, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. There are also a number of support services available through the government and support organisations to assist with performing day to day tasks, and assist carers.
How the Florey is making a difference
There has been steady progress in identifying genetic factors that cause or predispose people to MND. This has resulted in a large number of genetically engineered laboratory models to test new treatment approaches for MND.
The Florey has an outstanding program of research in MND using patient-derived stem cell based and animal models. Our research using cutting edge techniques spans key areas in MND, including protein folding, energy metabolism, support cells, immune cells, gene and stem cell therapy approaches.
We have a strong focus on drug discovery, high throughput screening and translational medicine with the ultimate goal to develop effective treatments and a cure for MND.
Latest Florey news for motor neurone disease
The future of MND research - high throughput drug discovery
Associate Professor Bradley Turner is a NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Leadership Fellow and Head of the Motor Neurone Disease Laboratory, here at The Florey.
Dr Thomas Oxley awarded the Grant McKenzie MND Research Grant: Minimally invasive brain-controlled communication and navigation
Spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injuries and diseases like motor neurone disease have the devastating consequence of limiting people’s independence and communication.
Brain health affects all Australians. You can support our research by making a donation or a bequest.