Improving the lives of patients with neurodegenerative disorders and their families

Astrocytes (red) and neurons (green)

Our state-of-the-art centre is leading research into the most aggressive diseases in medicine.

The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) is the first centre in the world dedicated to researching the causes of neurodegenerative diseases including motor neuron disease (MND), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

The pioneering centre was founded by acclaimed clinical neurologist and neuroscientist Professor Dame Pamela Shaw. Professor Shaw has dedicated her life’s work to exemplary care of MND patients and the development of treatments to combat the disease.

Her Majesty the Queen visits SITraNSITraN was opened in 2010 by Her Majesty the Queen and was the culmination of more than a decade’s work, driven by Professor Pam Shaw’s vision and application. Since 1983 Professor Shaw has generated more than £50 million in research funding for MND. And in 2014 Professor Shaw’s services to neuroscience were recognised by Her Majesty the Queen, who awarded her with a damehood.

Since its opening SITraN has expanded to employ ten professors and 90 postgraduate students with multidisciplinary skills in neurology, pathology, gene therapy, molecular genetics, protein chemistry, cell biology, pharmacology, bioinformatics and computer science.

Together, these scientists have produced more than 400 peer-reviewed research publications attracting more than £17 million research funding for neurodegenerative diseases.

The centre is focussed on translational neuroscience, which means harnessing emerging scientific developments and translating these insights into effective therapies. SITraN has an international reputation in MND and SMA for integrating molecular science with clinical studies.

Professor Shaw said: “By joining our effort and energy in collaborative teamwork, and by harnessing the research funding and manpower resources needed, I believe we are poised to make a real difference to therapy development and improve the outlook for human beings facing the devastating illness that is MND.”

Leading the way in MND research

The term motor neuron disease (MND) refers to a group of diseases which are caused by the death of motor neurons in the brain and the spinal chord leading to progressive muscle paralysis.

MND often starts with walking problems, followed by the loss of arm and hand movements until breathing and swallowing are affected. A typical MND patient will die from paralysis of their breathing within two to three years of the onset of symptoms. The aggressive disease is considered by many doctors as the most devastating in medicine.

SITraN's research into MND is synchronised with drug screening and clinical research to trial new treatments. We’re leading the way with genome medicine thanks to SITraN’s Professor Win Hide, who has established an inter-faculty MSc course in Genomic Medicine funded by NHS Health Education England. This runs alongside our high-profile genome sequencing projects.

Our experts are also studying the progression of MND as a means of identifying new targets for neuroprotective therapy. To do this, our researchers are using zebrafish models to screen more than 2,000 potential new drugs.

The centre’s clinical research sits alongside huge advances in improving symptomatic care to improve the quality of life for MND patients. Developments include non-invasive ventilation (NIV) to support breathing in patients with respiratory muscle weakness and a neck collar for patients experiencing muscle weakness, both of which are available now to all UK MND patients.

Research into related neurodegenerative diseases

SITraN also researches other neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s.

Dementia affects more than 830,000 people in the UK and 38 million people globally. The disease costs the UK economy £26 billion a year, more than cancer and heart disease combined.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and SITraN is investigating the pathology of Alzheimer’s using microscopy techniques to look at donated brain tissue from a large population-based sample.

We're also pioneering research into Parkinson’s, a progressive neurological condition and the second most common neurodegenerative disease. Our work into Parkinson's, led by Professor Oliver Bandmann, has uncovered disease mechanisms and identified drug targets for a neuroprotective therapy to slow down or stop its progression.