Nov 24 2014 Posted: 10:40 GMT

A major conference on neurodegenerative diseases takes place in Galway this week from 27-28 November.

NUI Galway will host the 24th Annual Meeting of the Network of European Central Nervous System Transplantation & Restoration (NECTAR). The NECTAR meeting is a major international gathering for researchers working on the development of cell and gene therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

In one of the sessions, Professor Roger Barker of the University of Cambridge and one of his patients, Mrs. Sheila Roy, will share their experiences of a new experimental drug called ProSavin® with the audience. ProSavin® is a viral gene therapy manufactured by Oxford BioMedica that is currently undergoing clinical trial for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. It is injected directly into the brain, inducing production of the neurotransmitter dopamine which is deficient in this condition. Trials in laboratory animals and humans have been a success, with ProSavin® demonstrating significant efficacy without the side effects associated with other current treatments for Parkinson's disease.

Neurodegenerative diseases are currently treated using drugs that neither address the underlying causes of disease nor prevent neurodegeneration. Given that the incidence, and consequent personal, societal and economic costs, of neurodegenerative disease is set to escalate with the ageing population, it is essential that novel neuroprotective and neuroreparative therapies are developed to treat these devastating conditions sooner rather than later.

This conference has been held annually across Europe since its inauguration in Lund, Sweden in 1984, and this is the first time in its history that this prestigious international meeting has come to Ireland. The major remit of the 2014 NECTAR conference is to bring together scientists, clinicians, patient advocates and industry partners from across Europe and the international community to share the latest research in repairing the damage to the central nervous system as a result of degenerative diseases.

The Chair of the local organising committee is Dr Eilís Dowd, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology and Therapeutics at NUI Galway and a member of the University’s NCBES Galway Neuroscience Centre. Speaking about the conference, Dr Dowd said “It is a privilege to host this prestigious conference, and we expect that holding the conference in Galway will significantly enhance Ireland’s reputation in the field of cell and gene therapies for neurodegenerative disease.”

Eighteen international experts from across Europe, Australia and Canada will speak at the meeting. These include major international scientific speakers such as Professor Colin Masters, University of Melbourne, Australia and Professor Anders Björklund, Lund University, Sweden, as well as policy makers such as Dr Mary Baker, Past President of the European Brain Council, patient advocates, experts in clinical trial design and industrial speakers.

In addition to the invited speakers, there will also be several “data-blitz” sessions of short oral communications delivered by Irish and international researchers. PhD students and post-doctoral researchers will play a significant role at the conference, adding to the environment of vibrancy and collaboration that lies at the heart of NECTAR. Indeed, NUI Galway-based PhD students and post-doctoral researchers are organising a special satellite symposium in advance of NECTAR, to be held on Wednesday, 26 November. This symposium is entitled Careers in Neuroscience (CNS) 2014, and will focus on the many career opportunities open to young neuroscientists, with senior experts sharing their advice and experience with younger delegates. Neuroscience research and teaching are very vibrant at NUI Galway, and the University’s Galway Neuroscience Centre is proud to support both the NECTAR and CNS2014 meetings.

The conference organisers gratefully acknowledge the support they have received from several funding agencies including the Campaign for Alzheimer’s Research in Europe, Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council and Fáilte Ireland.

More information on the conference can be found at (http://www.nectar-eu.net/)

Ends

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