Conference hears of medical breakthrough

At the conference, which was held in the Meyrick Hotel, were: Dr Mary Baker, MBE, European Brain Council: Mrs Sheila Roy who spoke about her battle with Parkinson's disease; and Dr Eilís Dowd, NUI Galway and NECTAR President.
At the conference, which was held in the Meyrick Hotel, were: Dr Mary Baker, MBE, European Brain Council: Mrs Sheila Roy who spoke about her battle with Parkinson's disease; and Dr Eilís Dowd, NUI Galway and NECTAR President.

A major conference on neurodegenerative diseases in Galway last week has been hailed a huge success by organisers.

This was the first time the Annual Meeting of the Network of European Central Nervous System Transplantation & Restoration (NECTAR) was held in Ireland. NECTAR saw researchers gather to discuss the latest developments in cell and gene therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

One of the highlights of the conference was a talk by Sheila Roy, who is undergoing an experimental gene therapy treatment for Parkinson’s disease. She first started the treatment in 2011, as part of a trial for ProSavin, a viral gene therapy manufactured by Oxford BioMedica.

Sheila Roy has seen some progressive improvements since she volunteered for the radical treatment, and she has been able to reduce her medication by 50 per cent.

The Chair of the local organising committee was Dr Eilís Dowd, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology and Therapeutics at NUI Galway, and a member of the University’s NCBES Galway Neuroscience Centre.

“Sheila Roy gave a moving depiction of what life is like with Parkinson’s disease, and we are so thankful to her for sharing it with us. Her contribution rounded off a truly successful event,” Dr Dowd said.

The major remit of the 2014 NECTAR conference was to bring together scientists, clinicians, patient advocates and industry partners from across Europe and the international community to share the latest research in repairing the damage to the central nervous system as a result of degenerative diseases.

At the conference, Dr Dowd was elected as President of NECTAR, an organisation which was founded more than 20 years ago.

“Neurodegenerative diseases are currently treated using drugs that neither address the underlying causes of disease nor prevent neurodegeneration. They simply treat the symptoms of the disease. Cell and gene therapies aim to treat the disease itself and try to reprogramme the body’s mechanism to protect or even repair the brain,” dr Dowd said.

“The science is moving rapidly, and networks such as NECTAR are facilitating the sharing of information among researchers in the field. However, we are still quite a way off any potential cure, but conferences like this renew our determination to succeed,” she added.

Eighteen international experts from across Europe, Australia and Canada spoke at the meeting. These included major international scientific speakers such as Professor Colin Masters, University of Melbourne, Australia and Professor Anders Björklund, Lund University, Sweden, as well as policy makers such as Dr Mary Baker, Past President of the European Brain Council, patient advocates, experts in clinical trial design and industrial speakers.