Science

Scientists behind pioneering migraine treatments win world's top Brain Prize

A group, including a King's College London neuroscientist, praised for work which has helped improve the quality of life for migraine sufferers.

An Australian-British neuroscientist is among four winners of a top accolade celebrating their work on pioneering migraine research.

The group, from the UK, Denmark, Sweden and the US, are credited with discovering a key mechanism that causes migraine, leading to revolutionary new treatments.

Their work stretches some 40 years and has specifically focused on women, who are disproportionately affected by the condition.

Peter Goadsby, a professor at King’s College London, said he was “very honoured” to receive the Brain Prize, regarded as the “Nobel” of neuroscience and worth around £1.1 million.

More than a billion people in the world suffer with migraines and three females for every male experience them, he said.

“Migraine is common, it’s disabling, that’s why it’s important,” he said.

“When we started out our research, people would look at you – well they still do a little bit – they look at you as crazy, that you were going to take an interest in headache disorders.”

Fellow winner Professor Jes Olesen, from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, suggested that the issue had not been taken seriously because the condition mostly struck women and relates to menstruation.

“In the past it’s been male dominance in all decisive organs, be it in deciding healthcare policies, deciding on funding, deciding on acceptance of scientific papers in journals,” he explained.

Four decades of research paved the way for the development of entirely new classes of migraine-specific drugs which are now on the market and are already radically improving the lives of sufferers.

“I’m humbled by the emails we get from patients whose lives changed by these medicines, we haven’t changed them all, we’ve only just started,” Prof Goadsby added.

The development of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonist drugs has opened a new era in migraine research and therapy.

Although they do not cure migraine, they markedly improve the quality of life of many migraineurs.

Professor Michael Moskowitz, at the Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts, and Professor Lars Edvinsson, at Lund University, Sweden, were also named winners of the award, which is presented each year by Denmark’s Lundbeck Foundation.

Professor Richard Morris, chairman of the prize’s selection committee, said: “Migraine is one of the most common and disabling neurological conditions affecting humans.

“The work of the four recipients contributed to the clinically effective classification of the various types of this disorder, and then to unravelling the key mechanisms that cause it.

“This understanding led to the development of a novel therapy and has opened windows into future ones.

“Their work on migraine is a remarkable example of bedside-to-bench-to-bedside research that has yielded tangible clinical benefit.”

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