Funding boost for human stem cell-based research in motor neuron disease

A picture of Dr Alison Giles presenting Dr Bhuvaneish Thangaraj Selvaraj with the Diamond Project Award which is a research grant from the Humane Research Trust.

Mar 2023: Congratulations to Euan MacDonald Centre member Dr Bhuvaneish T Selvaraj who has been awarded a research grant from The Humane Research Trust.

Bhuvaneish and the cross-disciplinary project team received a Diamond Project Award from The Humane Research Trust, to investigate the mechanisms underlying MND using cutting-edge human stem cell technology.

The award was made by Dr Alison Giles, CEO of The Humane Research Trust, at a ceremony at the Trust’s offices in Bramhall, Greater Manchester, on 27th February 2023. The zoologist and TV presenter Megan McCubbin joined the event online and congratulated Bhuvaneish for recognising the importance of using human models to understand the human brain. Not only was this good science, but it would improve human health without harm to animals.

Bhuvaneish is a Chancellor’s Fellow at the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, University of Edinburgh, an Emerging Leader of the UK Dementia Research Institute and a Principal Investigator of the Euan MacDonald Centre.

The research project will develop the use of so-called ‘nerve-muscle assembloids’, which are three-dimensional structures comprising nerve cells and muscle cells, all of which have been grown in the laboratory from stem cells derived from a human blood or skin sample. The nerve cells and muscle cells grow together to form functioning structures called ‘neuromuscular junctions’, just as they do in the human body.

As the brain is so complex and inaccessible, to be able to re-create neuromuscular junctions in a laboratory is a major step forward for human brain research.

Researchers believe that the degeneration of neuromuscular junctions is a key step in the development of MND. Using this new technology, the researchers will be able to compare assembloids generated from healthy people against those from people with MND, to search for differences in how their neuromuscular junctions look and function.

If differences are observed, the researchers will test drugs on the assembloids to try to correct any defects. Later, these drugs might become candidates for clinical trials in people with MND, testing their ability to slow down the progression of the condition.

The researchers will validate their findings in human post-mortem muscle samples generously donated to the Edinburgh Brain and Tissue Bank by people with MND.

The mission of The Humane Research Trust is to advance the diagnosis and treatment of disease in humans by supporting new medical research which does not include the use of animals.

The award aligns with the University of Edinburgh’s commitment to the principles of the ‘3Rs’ – replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in research by using an alternative research method.

There is an urgent need for new treatments for MND. We are very grateful to The Humane Research Trust for supporting our project which will both enhance our understanding about MND and enable us to take one-step closer to identification of treatments, and also highlights the utility of disruptive technologies such as human organoid models to study neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr Bhuvaneish T Selvaraj, Principal Investigator of the study 

Our prestigious Diamond Project Award was launched to celebrate the Trust’s 60th year. In selecting the winning application, trustees were looking for cutting edge human-based research into an area of immense clinical need. Motor neuron disease is a devastating terminal illness and research into its causes and treatments has historically involved high animal usage. We were delighted to make this award to Bhuvaneish and contribute towards a greater understanding of this terrible disease using a human model to replace animal experimentation and suffering.

Gill Homan, chair of The Humane Research Trust

Related links

Bhuvaneish Selvaraj’s profile

Research case study: Stem cells and ‘MND in a dish’

The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic (University of Edinburgh) 

The Humane Research Trust website

Edinburgh Brain and Tissue Bank (University of Edinburgh website)

University of Edinburgh Animal research - alternatives and improvements


Image: Dr Alison Giles presents Dr Bhuvaneish T Selvaraj with the Diamond Project Award. Credit: Maxine Rawji, The Humane Research Trust

This article was published on: Tuesday, March 07, 2023