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Our group aims to: conduct and design best clinical trials in neuromuscular diseases; accelerate clinical trial development through innovative outcome measures and newborn screening; understand progress of the disease and apply personalised care; connect with families and act as a strong reference point; assess effectiveness of current treatment therapies; minimise undiagnosed cases and time to targeted intervention.

STRONG team photo, featuring Chris Montague-Johnson, Charlotte Lilien, Jenny Riga, Laurent Servais, Dom Tromans, Sithara Ramdas and Beatrice Yeung

Group Head Biography

Laurent Servais is Professor of Paediatric Neuromuscular Diseases at the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre and Invited Professor of Child Neurology at Liège University.

After graduating from Louvain Medical School, Brussels, Belgium in 1999, he completed a PhD in Neuroscience (cerebellar electrophysiology in alert living mice) from Free University of Brussels, Belgium, followed by residencies in child neurology at the Free University of Brussels and Robert Debré Hospital, Paris. In 2008, he took a position in neuromuscular disease and clinical research at the Institute of Myology in Paris, where his interest and expertise in neuromuscular diseases flourished. He was subsequently appointed Head of Clinical Trials and Database Services. Most recently, he served as Head of the Institute of Myology’s I-Motion (Institute Of Muscle-Oriented Translational Innovation), and Head of the Neuromuscular Centre in Liège, Belgium. He has joined MD UK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre and the University of Oxford in September 2019.

Laurent has been involved as principal investigator in numerous clinical trials to test treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

He is the leader of the newborn screening program for SMA in southern Belgium. His main research expertise covers the development of innovative outcome measures, including connected devices for real-life patients’ evaluation. He was instrumental in the qualification of the first digital outcome by a regulatory agency, the SV95C in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy


Our team

Research Summary and Aims

1. Clinical trials in the neuromuscular field:  

Our aim is to conduct in the best condition possible phase 1-3 clinical trial in neuromuscular diseases. We consider our responsibility to adopt as soon as possible the current advances in biomedical research and technology in the design of accurate and effective clinical trials. The utmost goal for our team is to be able to assess the upcoming treatment therapies based on sensitive and disease-specific measures.

2. Understanding of natural history on neuromuscular diseases: clinical trial readiness

After having raised international natural history study in Spinal Muscular Atrophy and in X-linked Myotubular Myopathy, our group is currently working on an international natural history in Nemaline myopathy (Insert the link to ENMC Workshop) and in Angelman Syndrome. We consider this the cornerstone of understanding the progression of the disease and creating a strong reference point for patients, families and healthcare centers.

3. Innovative outcome measures: effective assessment & personalised

Innovative outcome measures such as wearable devices have the potential to dramatically decrease the trial duration and the number of patients needed to conduct the trials. The aim of our group is to pursue the validation of innovative outcome measure as measured from wearable (link to EMA qualification of SV95C).

4. Newborn screening & new genetic assays: driving research into early identification, potential treatments, and early intervention for rare disorders.

In the light of all the recent advances in the field of genetics and genetic therapies, the need for early intervention is unprecedent. The aim of our multidisciplinary team is to develop accurate and sensitive newborn screening tests, which will ultimately be accepted onto the National Screening Programme.

Who are we?

Laurent Servais

I have been told that it rains 2mm less per year in Oxford than in Paris and 150 mm less than in Brussels. On top of that, I was tired to live in a country with a parliament but without a government, and that in the UK, they had a government but no Parliament - it was in September 2019.  I couldn’t wait to enjoy the weather and the politics. I also discovered how good the English food was, I literally love chicken tikka masala, and the Sri Lankan and Thai restaurants in Oxford.

Working and living in Oxford offers an incredible opportunity for me, and my family. I feel that here we have the possibility to build a long-term future, create an outstanding facility, and to progressively change the face of clinical trials and clinical development in neuromuscular diseases. What else?

Chris Montague-Johnson

Somewhere, something is waiting to be known…

- Carl Sagan

In another life, I spent 10 years living in the South of France (yes, I know, how awful!). My daughters grew up there. We felt truly European. When we came back to the UK, I began another journey, which led me into clinical research and ethics.

As Vice-Chair of the Oxford A Research Ethics Committee, I have the opportunity to be reminded, on a regular basis, just how much curiosity and drive exists to find those ‘somethings’. My reward is to see the work of so many determined, skilled and gifted researchers striving to find answers.

And I love the irony of the fact that, post-Brexit, I am blessed to be part of a team that is truly European, to begin another journey, led by someone with such vision and determination.

Dora Markati

From an almost-Grexit to a Brexit and from wards with children to benches with drosophila flies. In other words, I was born in Greece on an August day of 1992 and graduated from the Medical School of Patras University in 2016. I became a Medical Doctor mostly because I love children and brains. To be more precise, I am currently enjoying my long and challenging pathway of becoming a Paediatrician and Neuroscientist. This, so far, included training in Paediatrics & Neonatology in London and Cambridge, as well as postgraduate studies in Developmental Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. At the moment, I am really inspired to be part of STRONG in Oxford, a diverse and supportive team of excellent specialists that embraced my ideas and dreams in improving the lives of children with Angelman Syndrome and Neuromuscular Diseases.

My perspective on medicine and life? 'In all battlefields of life, one shouldn’t allow oneself to stop and question if this is going to be a win or a defeat. One should only fight.' (N. Kazantzakis)

Emily McGann

With a background in molecular biology I have come to the Department of Paediatrics via Experimental Psychology, where I still work one day a week as a research trial administrator for Prof. Lucy Bowes.

I enjoy fulfilling those jobs that many academics dread including filling in complicated forms, counting pieces of paper, and keeping track of large spreadsheets. This sets me up nicely for my role within Prof. Laurent Servais group as a clinical trial administrator. I am looking forward to helping the STRONG group bring their brilliant and ground-breaking research ideas to life.

A side project of my own is promoting mental well-being and I am a certified mental health first aider. I am also studying counselling skills at Abingdon and Witney College.

Charlotte Lilien

 In 2013 I decided to leave the beloved French fries and beers from my native country Belgium for France, which was actually considered as rejection of my origins from the Belgian folks. When I came back home, friends and family couldn’t stop making fun of my “so Parisian accent”.

After more than 6 years as research physiotherapist in Paris at the institute I-Motion, a centre specialized in care and research in paediatric neuromuscular diseases I decided to improve my British accent and I thought “Well, be trendy and go against the trend… leave Europe and go to UK”.

So I left the French baguette, the cheese and the wine to settle down in Oxford. I’m really excited to be part of this great team and project offering many perspectives and opportunities. And I do hope that I will get used to the British food soon… is it possible?

Dom Tromans

I am a man who enjoys a good spreadsheet. Having spent several years in administration, creating trackers, building an NHS reporting system, juggling recruitment timelines and designing a filing structure for a firm of solicitors, I have taken on my most challenging role yet: organizing the schedule of Professor Laurent Servais.

I am proud to be doing my small part for such a brilliant and diverse team as it launches exciting and visionary projects. I may even let them borrow my highlighters.

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