‘Scottish scientists could find motor neurone cure’

SCOTLAND could be the place where a cure is found for motor neurone disease (MND), ­according to campaigner ­Gordon ­Aikman.
Gordon Aikman at the Euan MacDonald Centre yesterday with Donald MacDonald. Picture: Lisa FergusonGordon Aikman at the Euan MacDonald Centre yesterday with Donald MacDonald. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Gordon Aikman at the Euan MacDonald Centre yesterday with Donald MacDonald. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The 29-year-old, who was ­diagnosed with the degenerative disease last May, paid a visit to the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND at Edinburgh University yesterday. 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 that different treatments can be tested.

Mr Aikman, of Meadowbank, Edinburgh, 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.

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

The visit came as an Ipsos Mori poll 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.

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 increase investment in MND research ahead of the general election, following the joint support of Labour leader Ed Miliband and the party’s Scottish leader, Jim Murphy.

He said: “This shows a huge public appetite for action on these issues. It’s not as well known as cancer or dementia but awareness has never been higher – between the ice bucket challenge, the new Stephen Hawking film The Theory of Everything and other high-profile cases like myself.”

Since his diagnosis, Mr Aikman has raised more than £221,000 for MND Scotland and his campaign has been credited with influencing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’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 fuel my energy and 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 results of the poll were welcomed by MND Scotland chief executive Craig Stockton.

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He said: “The sooner 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 for MND and ultimately a cure can be found.”