MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: Functional biomechanical assessment of treatment efficacy in Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

University of Sheffield

About the Project

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a major subtype of Motor Neurone Disease (MND). This is a progressive neurodegenerative condition which affects upper and lower motor neurons, resulting in impaired muscle function which can cause muscle weakness which can impact a variety of body systems. The majority of treatment in ALS involves symptomatic management. Two disease-modifying therapies are approved for use but these are only able to increase survival by a few months. 

The EXPERTS-ALS experimental medicine programme is a UK-based multi-centre drug prioritisation platform, co-led by the University of Sheffield. It aims for the rapid assessment of drug candidates arising from pre-clinical models, using biomarkers likely to predict ALS patient benefit.

The aim of the PhD will be to complement the EXPERTS-ALS study through developing and undertaking mobility and functional testing and remote monitoring techniques in the cohort of patients within the EXPERTS-ALS study. This PhD will provide biomechanical measures to assess the efficacy of the regimes by:

·        Assessing baseline biomechanical and functional characteristics of patients with ALS

·        Identifying key measures for remote monitoring and to identify changes in physical symptoms and function

·        Implement continuous monitoring methods such as smartphones/watches and evaluate the efficacy of these tools compared with gold-standard lab-based measures

·        Evaluate the acceptability of wearable devices and remote monitoring with the patient groups

Current approaches to monitoring physical symptom severity and disease progression in ALS are mostly undertaken via in-person clinics, which may be burdensome to the patient (and carer) and can rely on subjective measures. Wearable devices for mobility measurement have successfully been implemented and validated for a range of neurological and musculoskeletal conditions. ALS provides different challenges for remote monitoring due to the range of function affected. Therefore, there is a need to develop sensitive objective measures of functional change in people with ALS. This project will work alongside a large clinical trial to link medical engineering and technology to clinical outcomes and provide you with the opportunity to work at the boundary between the disciplines.

As a cross-cutting PhD, this project will enable training in a range of areas. Specifically, you will be embedded within research groups in neuroscience and engineering, working at this interface, to develop interdisciplinary skills including engineering analysis, qualitative assessment and familiarity with clinical trial protocols and processes. You will be trained in biomechanical analysis – to undertake gait lab/biomechanics trials,as well as using wearable technologies to remotely monitor patient function and mobility. To deliver the research you will also undertake training in data analytics to bring together the outcomes across the different methods employed. As you will be evaluating the influence of treatment regimes, you will also have training in whole organism physiology allowing understanding of the disease process.

Links to supervision team: Prof Christopher McDermott Dr Tecla Bonci Prof Claire Brockett Dr Ellen Buckley

Please note that Dr Tecla Bonci is currently on maternity leave so please contact Prof Brockett or Dr Buckley as alternatives.

This project is part of the Discovery Medicine North Doctoral Training Partnership (DiMeN DTP), a diverse community of PhD students across the North of England researching the major health problems facing the world today. Our partner institutions (Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and Sheffield) are internationally recognised as centres of research excellence and can offer you access to state-of the-art facilities to deliver high impact research.

We are very proud of our student-centred ethos and committed to supporting you throughout your PhD. As part of the DTP, we offer bespoke training in key skills sought after in early career researchers, as well as opportunities to broaden your career horizons in a range of non-academic sectors.

Being funded by the MRC means you can access additional funding for research placements, international training opportunities or internships in science policy, science communication and beyond. See how our current DiMeN students have benefited from this funding here: https://www.dimen.org.uk/blog 

Further information on the programme and how to apply can be found on our website:

https://www.dimen.org.uk/how-to-apply 

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