Two ambitious researchers with a passion to investigate potential causes and therapies for motor neuron disease (MND) have been announced as the first to receive funding through a new Pre-Fellowship scheme which comes under the work of the UK MND Research Institute (UK MND RI). The first-of-its-kind Pre-Fellowship scheme for MND is funded by the MND Association and administered by MND Scotland.

Dr Alannah Mole, University of Sheffield, and Dr Emily Carroll, University of Oxford, have been selected to receive the innovative funding awards following a rigorous application process.

The scheme, which provides 12-18 months of ‘pump priming’ funds, bridges a long-acknowledged funding gap and is designed to attract and retain early career researchers (ECRs). The scheme is part of the new UK MND RI which aims to train future leaders in MND research – with a particular emphasis on the development of new treatments – by providing funding and a collaborative research environment that encourages early career scientists to continue their training and careers in MND research.

Thanks to the £284,000 Pre-Fellowship funding, award holders will be able to gather the data needed to show the potential of their research. They can then apply for longer-term fellowships in MND research. As well as funding, recipients will receive mentoring from experts in the field and the chance to collaborate, communicate their science and participate in a buddy system between researchers and people living with MND.

Award recipient Dr Alannah Mole said: “This Pre-Fellowship will provide a unique and exciting opportunity to research some of my own ideas, whilst benefitting from the advice, support, and expertise of established researchers in an amazing environment; such connections will be important in future.”

Dr Mole’s research examines the sequence and timing of events that ultimately lead to nerve cell failure in MND by mapping changes in nerve cell function and activity across the disease time course in models of MND.

“If we know where and when things go wrong, then we can target these events more effectively and know what therapeutic approaches might work at different disease stages to delay or prevent the loss of nerve connections, but it can be difficult to gather preliminary data to support fellowship applications when there are competing demands and responsibilities on postdoctoral projects. Such pre-fellowship funding is therefore particularly valuable in this respect, and I am very grateful and excited to have been awarded this!”

Fellow award recipient Dr Emily Carroll is looking at existing drugs, which are currently used to treat other conditions, and seeing whether they can be effective in the treatment of MND.

Dr Carroll commented: “We hope that by examining existing drugs, instead of developing new ones from scratch, we will be able to ‘fast-track’ the drug discovery process for MND. Funding which bridges the gap between finishing a PhD and applying for a fellowship is key to allow early career researchers time to generate sufficient pilot data for a full fellowship application.”

Sophie Nyberg, Programmes and Partnerships Manager at the MND Association said: “We are delighted to announce these award holders to launch the scheme. We want to ensure the best researchers out there are able to pursue a career in MND research. Adding this ‘stepping stone’ to our funding portfolio will allow us to attract and retain the best and brightest researchers.”

Dr Jane Haley MBE, Director of Research at MND Scotland commented: “In order to help transform MND research, the research strategy MND Scotland launched last year committed to embedding partnership working into our ethos. This new Pre-Fellowship funding scheme is a brilliant example of how we can combine resources with other charities to effect change. The MND Association is generously funding this exciting new initiative, with MND Scotland providing the administration; working together to enable the recruitment of much-needed early careers researchers into the new UK MND Research Institute.”

A third award has been made and the recipient, who will be based at King’s College London, is due to be named soon. Further information the projects is in the MND Association Research blog.