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“I’m passionate about standing up for neuromuscular conditions”

24 February 2023

Gabby Logan presents Dr Vino Vivekanandam with Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Early Career Scientist of the Year President’s Award in celebration of her outstanding tenacity and drive in trying to advance our understanding of muscle conditions and improve the quality of patient care.

Dr. Vino, a Neurologist & Clinical Research Fellow at University College London (UCL), is dedicated to finding new treatments, improving patient diagnoses, and increasing our understanding of rare muscle channelopathies* with far-reaching benefits for patients across the UK and internationally.  

Vino explains, “neuromuscular conditions are often the side of neurology that kind of gets forgotten about. When people hear neurology, they tend to immediately think of the brain, but muscles and nerves are so important too and can cause so much disability. That’s where my passion started – standing up for what’s sometimes ignored.” 

While completing her PhD research, she designed and ran a blinded, randomised, controlled clinical drug trial in muscle channelopathy patients to compare and understand what the best treatment is for managing myotonia.  

One of the medications in her trial, lamotrigine (which is currently used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder), can be prescribed by a GP, and she wants to find out if it is just as effective as another very expensive specialist prescription. This will avoid people having long waits before seeing a specialist to be prescribed a very expensive treatment, while still improving their symptoms significantly.  

Setting up the trials for rare conditions was a challenging task

Vino explains “Running a clinical trial is a challenging endeavour, particularly over a pandemic, but the team, including research nurses, fellow clinicians, nurses and physiotherapists, as well as the UCL research team, make it all possible.”  

She managed to recruit 60 patients for this trial in a very rare muscle condition, as well as raise funding for this study herself, winning an international Shark Tank award from the Muscle Study Group, a fast-track grant from the Biomedical Research Centre and a Jon Moulton Charity Trust award. She was also awarded a platform presentation prize by the Association of British Neurologists.

Information sharing and cross-team working

Vino brings together multi-disciplinary teams to help manage the care of channelopathy patients and uses her research to search for genetic diagnoses when patients do not have a diagnosis in the NHS clinic.  

She praised her colleagues, saying “Our centre for neuromuscular conditions puts our patients first and creates a wonderful environment to work, collaborate and research. The leaders in our centre encourage, inspire and motivate me and the other junior researchers to achieve.”

Vino has published over 13 papers focused on muscle conditions, including research into the impact of COVID-19 in muscle channelopathy patients. She also spearheaded a large study looking at aspects that affect morbidity of patients with Andersen Tawil Syndrome, which was published in the high-impact journal, Brain.   

She has taken her research around the world to increase the understanding of these rare conditions, presenting in Australia, Italy, America, as well as at numerous meetings in the UK.

“Thank you MDUK. This is a great honour” 

Vino thanked Gabby Logan and the Judges for her award, saying it’s “a great honour to be MDUK’s Early Career Scientist of the Year. Certainly, it recognises not just my work but the muscle channelopathy team and the Centre for Neuromuscular Disease at Queen Square and UCL.”

Gabby Logan explained the judges were impressed by Dr Vivek’s sheer energy and tenacity

The President’s Awards judges said “The nomination speaks for itself. We were impressed by the sheer energy and tenacity shown in setting up a study repurposing an existing drug, recruiting the patients, and securing the funding.”

The Early Career Scientist of the Year Award celebrates a UK-based, up-and-coming, postdoctoral researcher who’s helping to shape our understanding of these conditions or uncover potential new treatments. Every day scientists are finding out more about muscle-wasting conditions so that we can bring new treatments and new hope to people.   

Our annual President’s Awards celebrate the fantastic contributions of our community members. Find out more about the awards and the winners here.

*Muscle channelopathies are rare genetic conditions that affect ion channels, which are tiny gateways that control the movement of electrically charged particles in and out of cells.

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