Since the WCMR was established in 2012, the multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, clinical scientists and researchers who are all committed to transforming the lives of those with mitochondrial disease and dysfunction has grown significantly. Notable additions over the years have included a dedicated drug discovery team and an extensive clinical trials team, which highlights the progress towards finding a cure for mitochondrial disease.
Mitochondrial disease is a common genetic condition that affects both children and adults. Since mitochondria are required to generate the energy that powers the body’s cells, they are vital for the body to function properly. When the mitochondria fail, people can develop a range of health complications, including profound fatigue, muscle weakness, strokes, recurrent seizures, memory difficulties, diabetes, kidney dysfunction, heart failure hearing loss and blindness.
This broad range of health issues mean that mitochondrial disease is often highly debilitating for patients and families, and is why the WCMR has a long history of putting those living with the condition at the centre of everything they do. This strategic and highly credited patient engagement approach, successfully led by WCMR Engagement Officer Dr Julie Murphy, ensures that the research is both relevant and patient-driven, leading to the best care for patients both nationally and internationally.
Last month saw the WCMR team come together for the first time in over two years to celebrate the 10-year anniversary. This was a perfect opportunity to reflect on the success of the Centre, including the growth of the NHS Highly Specialised Service for Mitochondrial Disorders at Newcastle over the last decade, with short talks given by Professor Zosia Lightowlers, Professor Bob Lightowlers and Professor Bobby McFarland.
The team were also delighted to welcome back Professor Sir Doug Turnbull, who retired as Centre Director during the Covid pandemic, and who shared his own reflections on the evolution of the WCMR since the group was established by himself and Professor Bob Lightowlers in 1990. Other members of the team who retired during lockdown, including the previous Centre Manager Hazel Glass and Senior Clinical Secretary Bernadette Caygill were also at the celebration.
Professor Grainne Gorman, who was appointed Wellcome Centre Director in 2020, spoke about her vision for the future, which includes raising the profile of mitochondrial disease for the benefit of the entire mitochondrial community. Part of this campaign involves highlighting the important role that mitochondria play in other conditions, including epilepsy, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cancer, and how breakthroughs in mitochondrial research could help in the fight against many diseases.
Professor Gorman said: “It is wonderful that we were able to celebrate this important occasion with members of the WCMR team, both past and present, who are all working towards making a major difference to the quality of lives of patients and families affected by the mitochondrial disease and dysfunction. We continue to lead the way in mitochondrial research and our success to date can be attributed to the quality of our diverse and fully inclusive team. Without research, there will never be hope for a cure but together we will find one.”
Professor Gorman would like to thank the team who led on the organisation of the event, including Christine Dyer, Clare Massarella, Catherine Feeney, Amanda Temby, Renae Stefanetti, Julie Murphy, Deborah Little and Lyndsey Butterworth.
Photo credit: Dru Dodd.