Link between immune system and brain disorders focus of new project

Glasgow scientists have joined forces with colleagues across the UK and two pharmaceutical companies to investigate whether mood disorders, such as depression, could be treated by targeting the immune system.

An initial link between the immune system and psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders has been established by a number of studies, which show that for some sub-groups of patients anti-inflammatory drugs have an positive effect. However, why and how some patients seem to benefit from receiving this treatment is unclear.

The project has received £5m from the Wellcome Trust and involves a partnership between seven universities and the companies Janssen and Lundbeck. The University partners involved comprise: Cambridge, Glasgow, Oxford, King’s College, Southampton, Cardiff and Brighton & Sussex Medical School.

In a two-stage project, the team will begin by investigating the immune systems of patients with treatment-resistant Depression and Alzheimer’s. They also plan to use animal models to more precisely establish what the relationship is between immune-related markers found in blood and brain function and behaviour.

The second part of the research programme, which is reliant on the success of the first, will be to carry out small experimental medicine trials, using re-purposed anti-inflammatory drugs in patients who have been identified according to their specific immunological profile or ‘phenotype’.

Professor Jonathan Cavanagh, from the Institute of Health & Wellbeing who is leading the Glasgow partnership, said: “The relationship between the central nervous system and the immune system is an intriguingly intimate one. This series of studies aims to probe this relationship in order to new ways to tackle mood disorders. Drug development in this field has stalled and new biological approaches are essential if we are to progress.”

Dr John Isaacs, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust said: “It has proved incredibly hard to develop drugs to treat depression and Alzheimer’s, and our existing drugs are often not very effective. 

“The cost of mental health in the UK is huge, economically, socially and personally. This project is taking a new approach by looking at the immune system, that we already have an advanced understanding of and we know affects the brain, and seeing whether we can use that knowledge to indirectly treat mental illness.”

The commercial partners in the project will contribute financial support, drug discovery know-how and access to anti-inflammatory drugs. The academic partners will contribute expertise in neuroimaging, clinical phenotyping, animal models and informatics.

 


Notes to Editors

This study will involve animal research.

Media enquiries: stuart.forsyth@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 4831 or Clare Ryan: c.ryan@wellcome.ac.uk / 0207 611 7262 Clare Ryan

 

First published: 6 January 2015

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