Oxford boasts a long and rich history of neuromuscular research, going as far back as 1672, when Thomas Willis, a Christ Church graduate, first described Myasthenia Gravis. In more recent years, fundamental advances in the field have been made by Professors John Newsom-Davis and Angela Vincent, who have performed the first studies on plasma exchange in myasthenia patients in 1972 and discovered antibodies to a new muscle-specific tyrosine kinase receptor MuSK in myasthenia in 2001. In the 1980s, Professor Kay Davies – the Centre’s co-founder and key driver – developed the first prenatal diagnosis for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, described the localisation of the DMD gene and discovered utrophin, a dystrophin-like protein whose increased expression may be able to compensate for the lack of the dystrophin protein in persons with DMD.
Fittingly, over the past few decades, Oxford has also maintained a strong connection with Muscular Dystrophy UK. Since 1988, MDUK has funded 75 projects and provided Oxford researchers with £8,500,000 in financial support. The charity’s flagship fundraising event, the Town and Gown run, was founded in 1982 in Oxford.
The potential of the two institutions is now combined in the shape of the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre. Currently, unprecedented number of neuromuscular therapies are coming to trial worldwide. Complex therapies, such a gene therapies, require appropriate infrastructure, as well as expertise to design, train and lead trials. The launch of the Centre will enhance trial capacity, and, consequently, accelerate pre-clinical discovery and translation, catalyse new experimental therapies and establish neuromuscular-focused training.
The Centre was officially inaugurated on October 8th, 2019, with speeches from its Director, Professor Matthew Wood, Project Manager Dr Nicole Le Grand and from MDUK’s Director of Research and Innovation, Dr Kate Adcock. The opening was followed by a keynote lecture from Laurent Servais, the newly appointed Professor of Paediatric Neuromuscular Disease, who gave an overview of his ground-breaking work on Duchenne muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy. The evening concluded with a reception and an exhibition of current neuromuscular research from key investigators across the Centre.