MND Scotland has welcomed five new members to its Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), including newly created positions for an early career researcher and two lay members.
The panel is responsible for peer reviewing research funding proposals and helping to set MND Scotland’s research strategy.
The five new members include; Colin Jones, a lay member who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) in January 2016; Alan Ogg, a lay member who lost his wife, Liz, to MND in 2016; Dr Arpan Mehta, a practising academic neurologist; Dr Danielle Leighton, a clinical lecturer; and Dr Hannah Smith, a postdoctoral researcher who joins the SAP as an early career researcher.
Dr Jane Haley, Director of Research at MND Scotland, said: “Giving hope to people with MND by funding research is one of the charity’s key pillars. We are so grateful to everyone that fundraises for MND Scotland, and we are committed to ensuring that money is spent on research so that our vision of a world without MND can, one day, be realised.
“That’s why we need a Scientific Advisory Panel that brings a wide range of views and experiences to our decision making. I’m delighted to welcome Colin, Alan, Arpan, Danielle and Hannah to the panel, and I look forward to working with them to invest in research that will bring about real change to the quality of life of people living with this brutal condition.”
Colin has had a lifelong interest in aviation. He served in the Royal Air Force for 13 years, achieving his childhood ambition, before spending 30 years’ operating civilian helicopters. He retired in 2016 when he was diagnosed with MND. Colin had very limited life expectations following his diagnosis, although his subsequent deterioration has been very slow. He believes this is made possible in part to dogged determination and the incredible support of his loved ones, which has enabled him to participate in finding a solution to this hideous condition.
Colin Jones said: “I am honoured and excited to be joining the Scientific Advisory Panel as a lay member. Research and associated funding is critical to finding a solution to MND and I am pleased to be involved in such a way, hoping that my experience with the condition will be helpful.”
Alan’s career has been in the world of education, starting in teaching then acting as an HM Inspector of Education and independent consultant and evaluator in the UK and UAE. Evaluation has always been an important component in Alan’s work, and he hopes to bring these skills to this new area of focus. Alan’s wife, Liz, was diagnosed with MND in 2013 and died in 2016 after a brave struggle.
Alan Ogg said: “Following my wife’s illness and death through MND, I have volunteered for MND Scotland in a variety of ways. Membership of the Scientific Advisory Panel gives me the opportunity to make a more meaningful contribution and to continue to make her life count.”
Dr Mehta is a practising academic neurologist. Dr Mehta is a medical graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and a Rowling Scholar who subsequently secured a MND Association-MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship to undertake a PhD in laboratory research into motor neuron disease (MND). He was awarded his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 2022, which focused on the better understanding of defective metabolism in motor neurons in ALS.
Dr Mehta joins the University of Dundee in 2024 to launch a programme of research using human induced pluripotent stem cells to understand the role of protein kinases in MND pathophysiology.
Dr Mehta said: “As a newly qualified consultant neurologist who is starting an independent research career, I am deeply honoured to have been asked to serve on MND Scotland’s Scientific Advisory Panel. MND Scotland has a long tradition of funding the very best research proposals, and to be formally part of the rigorous selection process alongside a multidisciplinary panel of experts is a real privilege.”
Dr Leighton is a clinical lecturer at the Institute of Neurological Sciences, University of Glasgow, where she continues her clinical neurology training. Dr Leighton qualified in medicine from the University of Glasgow where she also gained a BSc in Psychological Medicine. In 2015 she was awarded a MND Scotland-Chief Scientist Office Clinical Academic Fellowship (also partly funded by the MND Association), to undertake a PhD at the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research, University of Edinburgh. Her PhD looked at the clinical characteristics and underlying genetic makeup of people with MND in Scotland. In 2019 she was appointed as a Scottish Clinical Research Excellence Development Scheme clinical lecturer at the University of Glasgow.
Dr Leighton said: “I am delighted to be joining the MND Scotland Scientific Advisory Panel. We are at a crucial point in MND research, and I am honoured to be part of the team ensuring that clinically meaningful research reaches people with MND in Scotland.”
Danielle is currently on maternity leave and will be taking up her position on the Scientific Advisory Panel when she returns to work later in 2024.
Dr Smith is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh investigating the differences in protein synthesis between healthy and MND motor neurons. Her Neuroscience PhD focused on motor neuron development and the neuron-muscle connection.
Following time at the National University of Singapore, Dr Smith returned to the University of Edinburgh in 2022 to take up a MND Scotland-funded postdoctoral project. Her current research, supervised by Prof. Tom Gillingwater, is focused on the protein synthesis machinery in motor neurons, which is impaired in MND. As well as her research work, Dr Smith is committed to public engagement for MND research, and bridging the gap between people affected by MND and scientists.
Dr Smith said: “I’m thrilled to join the Scientific Advisory Panel as it’s rare that early career researchers get the opportunity to be involved with the grant process. I’m excited to discuss the varied applications made to MND Scotland, from fundamental research to clinical and care projects. This is matched in the breadth of experience of the other SAP members, including people impacted by MND, who I’m keen to work with to ensure that the best projects get funded. This will give me invaluable experience of the funding process too, improving my own future applications for my research career.”