Saturday, 2 March 2024
Saturday, 2 March 2024

Oxford Neuromuscular Centre marks fifth anniversary with major milestones

MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre marks its fifth anniversary having opened its doors in January 2019. Before the centre was established there were almost no clinical trials for muscle wasting and weakening conditions. Today, there are over 20 clinical trials either live or in progress in Oxford.

Muscular Dystrophy UK, the leading national charity for more than 110,000 children and adults in the UK living with one of over 60 muscle wasting and weakening conditions, partnered with the University of Oxford to form the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre five years ago.

The aim of the centre, based at the university, was to drive forward the development of new therapies and treatments, as well as increase the capacity of clinical trials for muscle wasting and weakening conditions in the UK.

The Centre brought together researchers and experts from across existing sites in Oxford and further afield, with the goal of making Oxford the third hub for muscular dystrophy research in the UK − along with London and Newcastle. The centre has been a game-changer for people and families living with a neuromuscular condition in the UK and has achieved major milestones during the last five years.

There was an urgent need for dedicated clinical research facilities, where new clinical trials for children could take place safely. Thanks to the hard work of the local NHS Trust and the centre this has changed. A space is now available with an expansion on the horizon.

Professor Laurent Servais, Professor of Paediatric Neuromuscular Diseases at the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre, established a state-of-the-art newborn screening programme for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the ongoing pilot of which is in Thames Valley, to improve early diagnosis and treatment.

Every baby in the UK is offered screening tests in their first week. Currently, SMA is not one of the conditions that are screened for – despite being included in many other countries’ newborn health checks. While most babies are healthy, for babies who do have a health problem, the benefits of screening can be lifesaving. This is the case with SMA – a condition that a baby is born with every five days in the UK. Earlier treatment before symptoms start is vital. Once a child starts to show symptoms of SMA, there is already irreversible damage to the nervous system which affects muscles and movement. The crucial work is now being piloted in Southampton, Portsmouth, Salisbury and Poole.

Muscular Dystrophy UK has invested over £1.2 million into the centre over the past five years, as part of its ongoing partnership. Developments into new therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, myotonic dystrophy, hereditary sensory neuropathy type 1 and new gene therapy to treat spinobulbar muscular atrophy have also progressed.

Catherine Woodhead, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK said: 

“We’re extremely proud of how far this partnership has come in the past five years. It’s exciting to see treatments developed in Oxford laboratories being part of a clinical trial, and even more exciting that Oxford itself is one of the trial sites. Such an increase in the number of clinical trials is something that we had not imagined five years ago. The MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre and its dedicated team have achieved some incredible advances which hold real promise for people living with a muscle wasting condition, especially children, who will particularly benefit from newborn screening with an available treatment for SMA.”

Professor Matthew Wood, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford and Director of MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre said:

“Celebrating the remarkable journey of the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre, we’re proud of the success the centre has achieved in the last five years. With over 20 clinical trials currently ongoing or in preparation, and several new treatments in development, we’ve elevated the centre to the top three centres for neuromuscular research in the country.”

Muscular Dystrophy UK has long been associated with the city of Oxford. The charity organises the annual Bidwells Oxford Town and Gown 10k which sees thousands of runners take to the city’s streets to raise money to support groundbreaking research and life-changing support. This year’s event takes place on Sunday 12 May.

The charity is also part of this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show and following the show the garden will relocate to the public garden space at the new Institute of Development & Regenerative Medicine at the University of Oxford. It will remain a permanent place of refuge for patients during treatment and new trials, as well as open to clinicians, scientists, researchers and the public too.

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