Who’s who in the UK SMA Research Consortium!

Who is involved

The Consortium consists of world-class research/ clinical experts in SMA and other neuromuscular conditions (such as Muscular Dystrophy and Motor Neuron Disease). The intention is to form an initial nucleus that will, in time, draw together all UK scientists involved in SMA research.

The Talbot Group
Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford.

Principal Investigator and Lead: Professor Kevin Talbot.
Professor Kevin Talbot portrait photography by John Cairns

Professor Kevin Talbot

Kevin Talbot qualified in medicine from the University of London and trained in Neurology in London and Oxford. He joined the laboratory of Professor Kay Davies in 1995 to work on the childhood motor neuron disorder spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), leading to the award of a DPhil in 1998. From 1998-2001 he was Clinical Lecturer in Neurology and from 2001-2006 held an MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship. He currently leads a multidisciplinary team providing a clinical service for patients with motor neuron disorders, including SMA from all over the South of England. In 2010 he became Professor of Motor Neuron Biology, and in 2015 he was appointed Head of the Division of Clinical Neurology.

Professor Talbot’s research is focussed on how to turn the remarkable progress in our understanding of the basic mechanisms of motor neuron degeneration into treatments that genuinely improve the lives of patients. His team has created new laboratory models using stem cells derived from skin biopsies from patients. Using these cells his laboratory will identify SMA specific changes in motor neurons and develop ways of screening drugs which have the potential to slow degeneration of motor neurons throughout life.

Research Co-ordinator: Dr. Lynn Ossher
Lynn Ossher

Dr Lynn Ossher

Lynn Ossher earned her BSc at the University of Toronto, before receiving her MSc and PhD from the University of Michigan. In her role as research coordinator for the Motor Neurone Disease Centre at the University of Oxford, she works with Professor Kevin Talbot and Professor Martin Turner to coordinate research into various motor nerve disorders, including SMA. Lynn is project manager for the UK SMA Research Consortium, and works from Oxford to manage the administrative activities of the consortium.

Post-Doc.: Dr Sukrat Arya
Arya Photo - sm

Dr. Sukrat Arya

Sukrat Arya is currently working as a post-doc in the laboratory of Professor Kevin Talbot at the University of Oxford. He received his MRes in Human Genetics and PhD in Genetics from University of Nottingham, UK, understanding the molecular basis of Myotonic Dystrophy (DM) and was involved in high throughput screening to identify drugs to treat DM. His first postdoctoral research at the University of Leicester, UK in the laboratory of Professor Andrew Fry focused on the molecular control of cell division. The research included characterization of members of new family of cell cycle-regulated protein kinases, called Neks and regulation of centrosome organization. His present research focuses on modelling spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) using induced pluripotent stem cell derived neurons, and using these cells to validate druggable pathways.

The Gillingwater Group
Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh.

Principal Investigator and co-Lead: Professor Tom Gillingwater
Professor Tom Gillingwater

Professor Tom Gillingwater

Tom graduated in Human Biology [Anatomy] from the University of Leeds before moving to the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a PhD in Neuroscience in 2001. Following a period of postdoctoral research, he was appointed to a Lectureship in Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh in 2004, promoted to a personal chair in 2010, and became the 15th Professor of Anatomy in 2015 (the Chair of Anatomy was founded in 1705). Tom graduated from Edinburgh University Business School with an MBA in 2006, is an elected Fellow of both the Anatomical Society and the Royal Microscopical Society, and is an elected Member of the Institute of Directors. He has board-level experience from several national and international organisations (including Association Française Contre les Myopathies, the SMA Trust, the Anatomical Society, and NeuroORG) and sits on the editorial boards of three international journals (he has been Editor-in-Chief at the Journal of Anatomy since 2011). He is currently serving as an external examiner for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is an Intercollegiate MRCS Examiner for the Royal College of Surgeons.

Tom leads a research team based in the Centre for Integrative Physiology and the Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research that has authored more than 90 papers in a variety of leading international journals, including Journal of Clinical Investigation, The Lancet, Nature Neuroscience, Brain, PLoS Genetics, Neuron, Nature Communications, Journal of Neuroscience, Trends in Molecular Medicine, Human Molecular Genetics, Annals of Neurology, American Journal of Human Genetics and Current Biology.

Post-Doc.: Dr. Yu-Ting Huang
Dr. Yu-Ting Huang

Dr. Yu-Ting Huang

Yu-Ting Huang is currently an SMA Trust post-doctoral research fellow working in the laboratory of Prof. Tom Gillingwater at the University of Edinburgh. She received her MSc in Oncology from the University of Nottingham and her PhD in Developmental Neuroscience from the University of Edinburgh. Her PhD project was related to the regulation of cortical progenitor proliferation. She has experience of delivering substances into embryonic mouse cortex by in utero electroporation and she looks forward to applying this skill to SMA therapy. Her current project aims to develop potential therapeutic gene transfer strategies for SMA as well as other neural degeneration diseases.

The Wood Group
Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford.

Principal Investigator: Professor Matthew Wood
Wood Photo - sm

Professor Matthew Wood

Matthew Wood is Professor of Neuroscience and Associate Head of the Medical Sciences Division at the University of Oxford. Matthew trained in Medicine at the University of Cape Town, working in clinical neuroscience before completing a PhD at the University of Oxford. Professor Wood is a world-renowned molecular neuroscientist with an outstanding record of achievement and leadership in RNA biology and therapy of neuromuscular disease. He is currently Director of the Oxford Centre for Neuromuscular Science, PI of the world-leading UK MDEX Consortium developing novel therapies for neuromuscular disease, co-directs the Research Alliance Centre for Excellence in DMD, is an Executive Board Member of the global neuromuscular network TREAT-NMD and a Non-Executive director of Isis Innovation, the technology transfer company of the University of Oxford. Matthew has a distinguished track record in public engagement, and was recently recognised for his exceptional contribution and made Vice President of Muscular Dystrophy UK.

The Becker Group
Centre for Neurodegeneration, University of Edinburgh.

Principal Investigator: Professor Catherina Becker.
Professor Catherina Becker

Professor Catherina Becker

Catherina Becker obtained an MRes in Human Genetics and a PhD in Neurosciences from the University of Bremen, Germany, studying development and successful regeneration of the amphibian (frogs and salamanders) central nervous system. For her first postdoctoral training post, she moved to the renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland on an EMBO-funded postdoctoral fellowship. Here, together with her husband, Thomas Becker, she developed spinal cord injury in adult zebrafish as a genetically accessible model for successful CNS repair. Their studies continued at the University of California, and the Centre for Molecular Neurobiology in Hamburg, where they became group leaders. The Becker group moved to the University of Edinburgh in 2005 and Catherina Becker is now Professor for Neural Development and Regeneration and the Director of the Centre for Neuroregeneration. Her group uses larval zebrafish to investigate motor neuron development and protection from degeneration.

Catherina is a founding member of EuFishBioMed, the European Society of Fish Models in Biology and Medicine, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB) and the co-Director of the new Wellcome Trust funded 4 year PhD programme in Tissue Repair.

Post-Doc: Dr Ana-Maria Oprisoreanu

The Yáñez-Muñoz Group
School of Biological Sciences, The Royal Holloway, University of London.

Principal Investigator: Professor Rafael Yáñez-Muñoz.
Professor Rafael Yáñez

Professor Rafael Yáñez

Rafael Yáñez is Professor of Advanced Therapy and Director of Planning and Resources at the School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. Prof Yáñez previously held Lecturer appointments with King’s College London and University College London, and received his BSc and PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain.

Professor Yáñez has long-standing interest in the use of gene and stem cell therapies. He is the Treasurer of the British Society for Gene and Cell Therapy, a trustee of the Genetic Alliance UK and organises a yearly event on Rare Disease Day. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Gene Therapy.

In the UK SMA Consortium Prof Yáñez’s team work in two main areas. They use stem cell-based systems to study how to modify drugs for effective delivery to the nervous system, which should facilitate the development of drugs for SMA. They also produce viruses that can carry genes for SMA therapy, and study how best to deliver those viruses for effective treatment.

Post-Doc.: Dr. Jamuna Selvakumaran
Dr Jamuna Selvakumaren

Dr. Jamuna Selvakumaren

Jamuna Selvakumaran received her B.Sc. and Ph.D. from University of Surrey. She then undertook her postdoctoral research in Bioglass for bone remodelling at Imperial College London. Jamuna joined Royal Holloway, University of London as a Daphne Jackson Post-doctoral Research Fellow funded by BBSRC in 2013 after a long career break to bring up her two daughters. Her research focused on restoring nerve function after spinal injury using non-integrating lentiviral vectors in Rafael Yáñez’s lab, supported by Spinal Research Trust (CHASE-IT consortium). She has also been working on the development of an induced pluripotent stem cell based in vitro model of the human blood-brain barrier to test therapeutics.

The Ning Group
Department of  Neuroscience, University of Sheffield.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Ke Ning
Dr Ke Ning

Dr. Ke Ning

Ke graduated in Medicine from First Military Medical University (Southern Medical University) in China in 1985. He undertook a Specialist Training in Neurosurgery at Sun Yatsen University of Medical Science in China and was awarded an M.Sc in Neurosurgery in 1991. He then obtained a PhD in neuroscience at the Third Military Medical University in China in 1996 and was promoted to associate professor in neurosurgery at the Southern Medical University in China in 1997. Since 1999, Ke has undertaken full time research in neuroscience in the USA, Canada and the UK. He joined the University of Sheffield as a Lecturer in Translational neuroscience in 2006 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Translational neuroscience in 2011. He has been closely involved in translational neuroscience research and teaching in motor neuron diseases. Gene therapy approaches offer a promising strategy for delivery of genes to enhance motor neuron survival. New approaches for the treatment of neurological disorders have been developed by using lentiviruses and other viruses. Recent studies have demonstrated very good efficacy of Lentiviral-mediated gene therapy approaches in ALS, SMA and other degenerative disorders.

Post-Doc: Dr Vinay Kumar Godena
Dr. Vinay Godena

Dr. Vinay Godena

Vinay is currently working as a postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of Dr Ke Ning at the University of Sheffield. His first postdoc at the University of Sheffield UK, in the laboratory of Dr Alex Whitworth, focused on disease mechanisms and mitochondrial homeostasis in neurodegenerative diseases. The research included microtubule-based axonal transport contribution in Parkinson’s disease, and pre- and post-synaptic communications in ALS models of Drosophila. His present research focuses on Lenti viral vector mediated gene therapy and stem cell strategies to enhance motor neurone survival in SMA and other neurodegenerative disorders.

 

The Bowerman Group
School of Medicine and Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, Keele University.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Mélissa Bowerman
Dr Melissa Bowerman

Dr. Melissa Bowerman

Mélissa is from Canada, where she completed her Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa (2006-2012). She next undertook an EMBO Long-term Fellowship in Dr Cédric Raoul’s group at the Institut des Neurosciences de Montpellier in France (2012-2014). Her second postdoctoral fellowship was in Pr Matthew Wood’s group at the University of Oxford (2014-2016). From January 2016, Melissa became a lead scientist within the UK SMA Research Consortium and was awarded an SMA Trust Career Development Fellowship. Since October 2017, Mélissa holds a Lecturer position at Keele University, where she is continuing her research within the UK SMA Research Consortium.

Mélissa’s research interests are on identifying pathological players in skeletal muscle and other metabolic tissues and evaluate how they mediate and exacerbate muscle pathology and metabolic defects in SMA. Importantly, a key feature of her work is to develop novel therapeutic approaches that can be used in combinatorial strategies with clinically relevant SMN gene therapies.

This is a very exciting period in SMA research as the first SMN gene therapy has been approved by the FDA and EMA and several additional promising therapeutic approaches are presently in clinical trials. However, there is still much more work required to further our knowledge on the function(s) of the SMN protein and SMA pathology itself to ensure the development of the optimal treatment strategies for all SMA patients across their lifecourse. She is very proud to be part of the amazing SMA community that is composed of researchers, clinicians, local and international charities as well as patients and their families.