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Approved Research

Investigating environmental risk factors for ALS and FTD using mendelian randomisation

Principal Investigator: Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock
Approved Research ID: 68812
Approval date: February 1st 2022

Lay summary

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also called motor neuron disease) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are related diseases which have devastating impacts upon people's lives by damaging the brain and nerves. Because there is not a cure for either of these conditions it is very important that health professionals are able to give patients lifestyle advice which reduces risk or slows progression of the disease. Currently, very few risk factors are known for either of these diseases and so it is not possible to give such advice.

Our aim is to show which behaviours increase and decrease the risk of ALS and FTD. To achieve this, we will use genetic information and lifestyle questionnaire responses collected by UK Biobank. First, we will show which genes are related to different behaviours such as peoples diet, exercise and social activities. Then, we will research how these same genes affect the risk of ALS or FTD. By measuring how a gene affects both a behaviour and a disease, it is possible to then understand if that behaviour can cause a disease. For example, if a gene increases the chance that someone exercises and also increases the risk that someone will develop ALS then it is possible to show that exercise is a risk factor for ALS.

By using these methods we believe that we will be able to show which behaviours do and do not increase the risk of ALS and FTD. This information will be very valuable to health professionals and patients. The expected duration of the project is 24 months.