Dr Thanuja Dharmadasa

Dr Thanuja Dharmadasa, NHMRC CJ Martin Early Career Fellow and Neurologist, University of Oxford.

Thanuja is a Neurologist and Clinical Researcher who completed her PhD in motor neuron disease (MND) at the University of Sydney in 2019. She was subsequently awarded a NHMRC CJ Martin Early Career Fellowship to pursue this work, and is currently at the University of Oxford as a Postdoctoral Fellow (Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Oxford Motor Neuron Disease Centre, John Radcliffe Hospital). She graduated from Medicine in 2008 from the University of Tasmania (MBBS, First Class Honours) and completed her Neurology specialty training at The Alfred and Royal Melbourne Hospitals in Victoria, undergoing a Neurophysiology Fellowship in her final year. Thanuja was awarded the Jim Lance Young Investigator’s Award in 2017 for her PhD work investigating MND, with her research continuing to focus on the discovery of peripheral and central neurophysiological and imaging biomarkers in this disease.

Forefront Group: Oxford Motor Neuron Disease Centre, University of Oxford

“This is an excerpt from the Oxford (OMND) research strategies webpage research team at the Oxford Motor Neuron Disease Centre focuses on the early stages of the disease when we believe there is the most chance of applying effective treatments. Professor Turner’s ‘BioMOx’ Programme is studying patients with advanced MRI scanning and biochemical monitoring (proteins in the blood and spinal fluid) to derive ‘biomarkers’. Having established some promising approaches in patients with established disease, we are now developing ways of applying these techniques to people who carry genetic risk factors but who may be some years from developing the disease. Our ultimate aim is to identify the earliest changes which occur in the disease and apply protective therapies before the onset of significant disability in those at risk and those already living with ALS.”


  • Neurophysiology
  • Advanced Neuroimaging (MRI)
  • Biomarkers

Affiliate Organisations

Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford; University of Sydney

Neurodegeneration of interest:

Motor neuron diseases (including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Primary Lateral Sclerosis, Kennedy’s disease), Frontotemporal Dementia, Ageing

Specific Skills:

  • Medical Doctor (Neurologist) and Clinical Researcher
  • Advanced neuroimaging (MRI) and ultra-high resolution MRI
  • Neurophysiological techniques (nerve conduction studies, motor unit number estimation, transcranial magnetic stimulation)

Project - The distinct neural signatures of motor neuron disease

All Chief investigators and associate investigators

Supervisors (PI): Professor Matthew Kiernan (University of Sydney) and Professor Martin Turner (University of Oxford)

Research Project Abstract

Motor neuron disease (MND) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease without effective treatment, which significantly shortens life expectancy for the majority of sufferers. Marked variability of clinical disease patterns in MND have been major barriers to identifying successful disease-modifying therapies, which has highlighted an urgent need to better understand disease mechanisms and develop robust markers of disease activity.

Our aim is to characterise the evolution of MND from its earliest stages and understand patterns of disease spread using a multimodal, clinically translational approach across two world leading centres in ALS research. The initial two years of this 4-year National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funded project is currently being undertaken at the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), where we are exploring state-of-the-art advanced neuroimaging techniques to obtain a detailed analysis of ALS brain networks in vivo. This will be integrated with comprehensive neurophysiological and clinical assessments to define the key functional, structural, and metabolic neuronal signatures associated with distinct clinical subgroups of the disease, and to help identify unique biomarkers of disease and progression.

Disease area:


Challenges within the field

The challenges in MND critically revolve around the lack of highly effective treatment options or standardised biomarkers of disease activity, which is testament to the complexity and heterogeneity of this syndrome.

Our research attempts to tackle these difficulties by using advanced multi-modal techniques to gain a greater understanding of disease mechanisms across the different subtypes of MND. This will help us identify the earliest changes that occur in the affected motor pathways and understand how the disease spreads, in order to help identify potential drug targets and disease markers.

Research Objectives

  • Develop an advanced multimodal clinical pipeline to explore affected motor pathways in MND patients in vivo and gain detailed insight into disease mechanisms;
  • Explore the earliest changes of disease and track longitudinal patterns of spread across MND subtypes along these distinct brain networks;
  • Neuroanatomically evaluate clinical and prognostic risk factors and develop unique biomarkers of disease progression and prognosis.