Transforming ALS research, with a gift
Brenda Wlodarski had worked for decades as a medical researcher at the University of Liverpool when her husband Andrzej passed away from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Now, she is hoping that she can prevent others from suffering as her late husband did, by supporting a ground-breaking new research project at the University.
ALS, also known as motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a degenerative condition which causes the death of the neurons that control voluntary muscle movements such as chewing, walking, breathing and talking. There is no known cure for ALS and the average survival period from onset to death is just two to four years, with only 10% of patients surviving longer than 10 years.
After her husband’s death, Brenda established the Andrzej Wlodarski Memorial Research Fund to help support scientific research into the disease. As an experienced researcher herself, she knew just the project it should benefit and got in touch with the University of Liverpool’s Chair of Neurobiology, Professor John Quinn.
Professor Quinn’s work is a new direction in ALS research. His group at the University of Liverpool is studying retrotransposons, also called 'jumping genes' because they jump from place to place and cause damage within DNA, including that of the brain.
Professor Quinn explained: “We are investigating the regions of genomic DNA which can act as modulators of brain function. They are not only part of the genetic component that gives us individuality but there is also a solid argument that they impact on our risk to a neurological or neuropsychiatric condition.
“A potential problem is that some of these elements can damage the neuronal genome by ‘jumping’ around their own genome via a ‘copy and paste’ mechanism creating individual neuron genomic diversity. This may be a good thing in many cases, such as memory and learning, however it’s also associated with conditions such as schizophrenia and neurodegeneration. Outside the brain, jumping gene activity has been associated with cancer risk.
“Our group is interested in how these elements impact brain function and this donation allows us to expand that work in motor neurone disease.“
The project is part of an international collaboration between Liverpool, Washington DC, Frankfurt and Tartu. Nationally the group collaborates with major ALS groups in London and Sheffield. With continued support from people like Brenda, the group hopes that this research will lead the way for a medicine that will calm these ‘jumping genes’ and prevent or treat diseases like ALS.
Professor Quinn continued: “Our interactions with Brenda reinforce why one does science. That a fellow researcher has chosen our group as the sole recipient of the fund she established is a professional honour and a personal joy. Importantly, it allows the group to explore new avenues to better attack diseases such as ALS in a timely manner.”
If you’re interested in making a difference as Brenda does, please take a look at the University fundraising priorities that could benefit from a supporter like you: www.liverpool.ac.uk/giving/priorities.