MND campaigner visits uni’s research unit

THERE have been a lot of days since he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease which might not have given Gordon Aikman cause to smile.

Gordon Aikman chats with Professor Siddharthan Chandran and technician Rinku Rajar at the Euan MacDonald Centre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Gordon Aikman chats with Professor Siddharthan Chandran and technician Rinku Rajar at the Euan MacDonald Centre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

But the campaigner was grinning from ear to ear when he visited the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND at Edinburgh University yesterday to witness scientists in the Capital leading the hunt to develop a cure.

The 29-year-old was diagnosed with the degenerative disease last May and since then has raised more than £200,000 to help support care for others and research into the genetic condition.

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And as part of his tour, Mr Aikman was shown skin cell samples that he donated a few weeks ago, which are being transformed into motor 
neurone cells so different treatments can be tested.

Mr Aikman, of Meadowbank, said: “It’s really cutting-edge stuff they are doing.

“Edinburgh University is at the forefront of this work on motor neurone disease in the world.

“If we are going to find a cure anywhere then here seems like the place.”

Since his diagnosis, he has raised more than £221,000 for MND Scotland and his campaign has been credited with influencing the First Minister’s decision last month to fund specialist MND nurses – who are currently paid for by charitable donations.

Mr Aikman added: “I’ve been blown away by the generosity and support I have been shown.

“I have my up and down days. I am trying to use my campaign to turn something so negative into a positive.”

“If we can get closer to finding a cure, that is the 
single greatest thing I can leave behind.”

The visit came as an Ipsos Mori poll released yesterday revealed that 75 per cent of voters back calls for the UK government to double research funding for MND and 97 per cent support the introduction of a system that ensures people with terminal illnesses such as MND receive benefits more quickly.

Roughly 130 people in Scotland are diagnosed with MND every year. Half of people with MND die within 14 months of diagnosis, but it can take months to process applications for the benefits they need.

Mr Aikman called on all political parties to pledge to increasing investment in MND research ahead of the general election.

He said: “This shows a huge public appetite for action on these issues. Between the ice bucket challenge, the new Stephen Hawking film, The Theory of Everything, and other high-profile cases like myself, awareness has never been higher.”

Craig Stockton, chief executive of MND Scotland, said these changes could make a huge difference to people living with MND.

He said: “The sooner that these policies can be agreed, the sooner that those living with MND will be able to concentrate on spending the time they have left with their families rather than worrying about how they will pay for their care or having to fight for government benefits.

“We need to increase government investment in MND research so that new treatments can be developed and, ultimately, a cure can be found.”