Leeds Rhinos hero Rob Burrow urges more support in fight against MND

Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow has thanked the public for their support in his campaign to find a cure for motor neurone disease (MND) - but is appealing for “another kick”.

Rob Burrow, centre, after his fund-raising game, which was also Jamie Jones-Buchanan's testimonial, in January. Picture by Steve Riding.

Since being diagnosed last December, news which rocked the whole sport, Burrow has been raising awareness of MND among the rugby league community and beyond.

Now he is backing a petition which calls for the UK government to explore options for making a new therapy, NurOwn, available to treat the illness.

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NurOwn is currently in the final months of phase three of an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) trial in the United States, where the condition is known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Fans at Burrow's fund-raising game. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

According to the petition, data from phase two “indicated NurOwn was safe and demonstrated signs of efficacy at low doses”.

With Burrow providing high-profile support, almost 31,000 signatures have been gathered, enough to prompt a government response, but the target is at least 100,000, which could trigger a debate in Parliament.

“It’s pleasing,” the eight-time Grand Final winner said of support for the petition so far.

“Thirty thousand is almost a third of the way there, but we need more.

Rob Burrow with his one-year-old son Jackson. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“The trial ends in October and hopefully when the results are out it can get the go-ahead.”

There is no known cure for MND which is a terminal illness affecting the muscles and brain.

It causes weakness that gets worse over time and Burrow said it is “massively” important new treatments are found.

“Time is running out for all of us,” warned the former number seven, who is fifth on Leeds’ list of appearances with 492 from 2001 to 2017,

“All we want is the ability to try things like this.

“It might not work for everybody, but what is certain is you will die if nothing happens.

“We should have a right to try anything and everything.

“Come October hopefully the results are great and it gives us hope.

“We need to try everything.”

The rugby league community rallied round Burrow when his illness was revealed and he has been overwhelmed by the sport’s latest show of solidarity.

“We need another kick, but it is amazing the response,” Burrow said.

“People have really helped by signing it. It only takes 30 seconds and I am really, really grateful.”

The Covid-19 pandemic is a particularly worrying time for MND sufferers whose weakened immune system makes them more susceptible to the virus, but Burrow confirmed he is feeling fit and well after two months inside.

The 37-year-old father of three insisted: “I like being at home.

“I am all right, I miss doing normal things outside - taking the kids out and going to play areas - but other than that, I am fine.”

Like all Rhinos’ rugby staff, Burrow has been placed on furlough during the coronavirus crisis.

He stepped up from academy boss to reserve team coach during the off-season, but Leeds’ second string managed only two league games before the campaign was halted.

Competitive reserve rugby has now been abandoned for the rest of 2020, but Burrow hopes Rhinos will play some rugby once the sport resumes.

“It would have been a big ask to make up the games we’ve missed,” he admitted. “It is disappointing, I feel for the lads more than anything. This year was going to be big for their development, but we can play friendlies and it’s important they get some game time. When we get back all that will be worked out, but it is a shame.”

The petition can be accessed via https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/301033.

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