New research project funded by The Migraine Trust to understand how to avert a migraine attack at the earliest stage

A new partnership between The Migraine Trust and King’s College London is providing a unique opportunity to better understand the earliest signs of an attack and how one can be prevented.

21st June 2024

A new four year iCASE PhD (industrial collaborative awards in science and engineering) is starting in October 2024 and aims to try to understand the biology of the premonitory symptoms which will in turn help generate new therapies that can act before the headache to stop attacks. This has the potential to change how we treat migraine, recognising that migraine is much more than a headache, and targeting the highly disabling non-pain symptoms of migraine. 

Migraine has a major impact on an individual’s quality of life, due to the recurrent highly disabling nature of attacks. Traditionally, migraine therapies and drug development pathways have focused on targeting migraine-related pain (headache). However, patients commonly report several non-pain symptoms hours to days before the headache that warn of an impending attack. These early warning symptoms, that include feeling tired and weary, light and sound sensitivity, and thirst/cravings, provide a unique insight into the underlying mechanisms of attack initiation.  

Researchers at King’s College London have identified abnormal activity in an area deep in the brain, called the hypothalamus, during the premonitory phase that functions to keep the brain in a stable state termed homeostasis. 

Dr Philip Holland who leads the Headache Group at the Kings College London and is overseeing the project said: 

“A major gap in our knowledge is which central brain mechanisms are involved in the generation of migraine attacks. While we have treatments that target the peripheral mechanisms that occur after the attack has started, the central mechanisms that lead to an attack are relatively inaccessible to current therapies. By targeting the earliest non-pain symptoms reported by patients, we hope to uncover the important first steps in attack initiation which can then be targeted to fundamentally change and improve migraine therapy. We are delighted that with the help of funding from The Migraine Trust, Mignon Van der Watt will be joining our laboratory, putting the experience of people living with migraine at the forefront of our research.” 

Mignon Van der Watt is joining King’s College London as a MRC-DTP iCASE PhD student in October of this year: 

“I am very excited to be joining Dr Holland’s laboratory in October through the MRC-DTP iCASE PhD programme. I have always been passionate about pursuing translational research that uses patient-engagement to inform molecular neuroscience investigations. Therefore, this research project is something I really look forward to getting involved in. Having The Migraine Trust and the migraine community collaborating with us on this project will play an invaluable role in allowing the research to be designed with the lived experience of people with migraine. I hope that my PhD project will allow us to uncover novel insights into the underlying biology of the non-pain symptoms of migraine and potential therapeutics that can be used to improve quality of life.” 

Mignon completed her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry, Genetics, and Human Anatomy and Physiology at University of Cape Town in South Africa. She then went on to specialise in Neuroscience and Molecular Biology during her postgraduate degrees.   

Rob Music, Chief Executive of The Migraine Trust said “We’re delighted to be collaborating with King’s College London on this project. A core strategic focus is to fund brilliant young scientists to provide the opportunity for a career in headache research and we look forward to hearing how Mignon progresses with this project.”