A £210,000 donation from the Alan Davidson Foundation (ADF) has been made to the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences (NDCN) to advance the University’s world leading research into Motor Neurone Disease (MND). The funding will support a project manager for three years to deliver an innovative research project using the genetic causes of MND to develop approaches to early diagnosis and eventually, prevention of all forms of MND.

MND symptoms develop insidiously and the early stages can be similar to other conditions, which means that diagnosis can sometimes take a year or more. As a result, damage to the nervous system can go undetected before physical symptoms become apparent. Professor Talbot and his research group work as part of the Oxford Motor Neurone Disease Centre, linking the research to clinical care.

Alan Davidson - ‘Envisioner of dreams’ who believed that innovation and investment in science is the key to advancing MND treatment

The team has already established promising approaches to treatment in patients who currently have the disease. The aim of this new ground-breaking research is to identify people at risk of MND before symptoms occur, so that treatment can be applied at the early stages when it can be more effective and disability can be prevented.

About 10% of patients with MND have a genetic mutation and each of their close relatives (parents, siblings and children) will have a 50% chance of carrying the gene that leads to MND. The research funded by ADF will sign up 300 – 400 ‘at risk’ individuals, who will be carefully monitored to enable the team to pick up the very earliest signals of the disease. The ultimate aim is to produce a blood test that could be used in general practice to screen for the silent damage occurring in the early phase of MND. A cohort study of this kind, linking in with the established MND network, will be unique, and once the cohort is in place, major research funding will also be sought to analyse the samples donated by people taking part in the study.

Alan Hayes Davidson RIBA was a Scottish architectural visualiser who pioneered the use of computers to create realistic digital images of buildings. Having started his career as an architect, he founded the world leading visualisation studio Hayes Davidson in 1989 to pursue his interest in computer modelling, making it the first company dedicated to producing computer-generated imagery for the architecture industry. The studio was commissioned to illustrate many well-known and iconic London buildings before they were built or extended, including the London Eye, the Tate Modern, the Millennium Dome (now the O2), the Royal Academy, the Royal Festival Hall and the British Museum.

Alan was diagnosed with MND in 2012 and the Alan Davidson Foundation was set up in 2015, three years before his death at the age of 58. He committed the majority of his estate to good causes through the foundation, including MND research.

Kevin Talbot, Professor of Motor Neuron Biology, Consultant Neurologist, Head of Department at the University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and founder of the Oxford MND Care and Research Centre, says: ‘I remember Alan vividly. He was an exceptional individual who achieved great things in his life and his enquiring mind lives on in the foundation’s commitment to MND research. This pioneering new project aims to understand the very earliest changes that occur, before physical symptoms progress. In the longer term it will contribute towards our aim of making MND a preventable condition.’

Caite Healy, ADF Trustee and friend of Alan, says: ‘During his own illness, Alan was hugely helped by understanding the in-depth science behind the treatment options. When he set up the Alan Davidson Foundation, he wanted his legacy to support innovative science and new ideas. We know he would have been hugely enthusiastic about this exciting project and what it aims to achieve.’