Motor neurone sufferer gives £1m to create research centre

A YOUNG father struck down by motor neurone disease and his family have donated £1 million to fund a new research centre which aims to find a cure for the fatal illness.

Euan MacDonald was only 29 when he was diagnosed with the crippling and ultimately fatal condition, which causes the degeneration of the body's motor nerve cells.

Now Euan and his father, Donald MacDonald, owner of the City Inn hotel chain and joint chairman of Caledonian Brewery, have helped Edinburgh University to establish Scotland's first motor neurone research centre designed to develop both treatments and potential cures for the condition.

They raised the money by organising a series of fundraising events including dinners, sponsored bike rides and marathons.

The Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research will build on what is an already strong research-base into motor neurone biology at the university.

Donald MacDonald said that the idea for the centre had come through his son's efforts to help research into the disease: "It was Euan's idea to start fund raising for motor neurone research.

"It grew out of discussions with Edinburgh University, [which held] a symposium of 20 people who happened to be working on motor neurone disease at the university.

"It was Euan's instigation as to how we could help strengthen this team, add bits to it and bring them together in a co-ordinated way."

The centre will appoint a senior clinical fellow to co-ordinate its clinical and basic research and will be based next to the Royal Infirmary.

It will run alongside the university's Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, which is already working towards medical therapies for illnesses including motor neurone disease itself, cancer, Parkinson's, liver disease and diabetes.

Euan, now 32, a former investment banker, who lives in Edinburgh with his wife and children, said: "If there is ever going to be a cure, it needs top-quality research to be done and we are hoping that this centre will make it possible."

He added that he continued to fight against the condition's limitations and, since his diagnosis, had married and now had two children.

He said: "At the time it was a pretty bad prognosis, but I just picked myself up and decided I would make the most of my life. I've been lucky, in that the condition has moved relatively slowly, but I keep as healthy as I can."

Professor Richard Ribchester, convener of the Edinburgh Motor Neurone Disease Research Group at Edinburgh University, said: "The aim is to gain greater understanding of the disease and to transfer [that] knowledge into development of new preventative medicines or techniques for repairing motor neurones with stem cells, leading to better treatment for patients."

He said the development of stem cell technology and other attempts to slow or stop the disease had generated the hope that treatments would be possible in the next five to ten years.