Can worms unearth new MND treatments?

Posted 23 Feb 2022

Dr Yee Lian Chew is applying her expertise in worms to address the urgent need for new motor neurone disease (MND) treatments.

The most common form of MND, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating and progressive condition. There is no cure and people with ALS experience progressive loss of muscle control, including muscles used to eat, move, talk and maintain breathing.

Current therapies focus on symptom management and respiratory support, with the few approved drugs being ineffective for many patients.

Dr Chew has received a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant to learn more about the biological processes disrupted during disease progression.

Known as the ‘Worm Lady’, Dr Chew uses the roundworm C. elegans to study how neurochemical signals in the nervous system work together to coordinate complex behaviours.

One of the smallest species of nematode worms, C. elegans are only one millimetre long with 300 neurons but are 80 per cent genetically identical to humans.

Together with Dr Luke McAlary and Professor Justin Yerbury from the University of Wollongong, Dr Chew will use the tiny worms to map a complete picture of all interactions of aggregating ALS proteins, with the hope of pinpointing new therapeutic targets.

“As ALS/MND is a progressive disorder, understanding the changes that occur in disease neurons during ageing may reveal important insights into the cellular events that occur early and late in disease,” Dr Chew said.

“This research will provide new information on the biological processes disrupted in different forms of ALS/MND, revealing novel druggable targets for the treatment of this devastating disease.

“These targets are essential for the development of more effective future therapeutic strategies for ALS.  Our strategy is to identify cellular processes that are disrupted by aggregation of ALS-linked proteins in neurons, with the view that these processes can be restored to revive neuronal function and health.”

Research category: Biomedical

Project title: Seeing what sticks: Identifying disease protein interactors to uncover new therapeutic targets for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neurone disease

Lead researcher: Dr Yee Lian Chew


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