Sheffield Institute for
Translational Neuroscience


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Latest News


Dr Laura Ferraiuolo wins 2019 Paulo Gontijo Award


Dr Laura Ferraiuolo, from the Department of Neuroscience and Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has achieved international recognition for her work to investigate the causes and treatment of motor neurone disease (MND).

Dr Ferraiuolo has been awarded the 11th Paulo Gontijo Award in recognition of her work on the contribution of glial cells in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and their importance as a therapeutic target. The award was judged rigorously by the jury committee of the Paulo Gontijo Institute (IPG), composed of five researchers recognised by the international scientific community.Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has achieved international recognition for her work to investigate the causes and treatment of motor neurone disease (MND).

Established in 2007, the Paulo Gontijo Award recognises young researchers below 40 years of age who have dedicated their scientific work to investigate the causes and treatment of motor neuron disease.

Dr Ferraiuolo is a Reader in Translational Neurobiology, the work of her research group has demonstrated that glia play an active role in neuronal degeneration. Her lab uses various in vitro cell models, including primary cells and genetically reprogrammed human progenitor cells, to investigate the interaction between astrocytes and oligodendrocytes from patients affected by MND with neurons.

Dr Ferraiuolo said: "I am grateful to the patients affected by MND who are at the centre of my research efforts and a constant motivation to work hard to find new therapeutic approaches for this devastating disease. Being recognised for the work I have carried out over the years with my team, amongst inspiring leading scientists in the field who have previously received the Paulo Gontijo award is a great honour. I am lucky to be surrounded by excellent scientists at SITraN, all driven to unravel the complex processes leading to neurodegeneration".

The award ceremony will take place in December 2019 during the opening of the International Symposium on ALS/MND in Perth, Australia, where Dr Ferraiuolo will present her winning paper to the scientific community. 


Liver drug trialled in Parkinson’s patients as novel treatment approach

A drug which has been used to treat liver disease for over 30 years is being trialled in patients with Parkinson’s Disease to determine its safety and tolerability in Parkinson’s, but also to assess its potential to slow down disease progression for the first time.

The ground-breaking study, led by researchers at the University of Sheffield in partnership with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will assess the safety and tolerability of the liver drug ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) in Parkinson’s patients – a drug which is hoped could potentially be repositioned to help slow down the progression of the disease.

Parkinson’s Disease currently affects around 145,000 people in the UK. The progressive neurological condition severely affects a patient’s quality of life and symptoms include problems with mobility such as walking, coordination or tremor, but can also result in memory loss, low mood or abnormal bowel function.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s are mainly due to the loss of dopamine containing nerve cells in the area of the brain which controls movement. An important reason why these cells die in the brain of patients with Parkinsons is due to a malfunction of the cell’s batteries – known as mitochondria.

The trial, led by Oliver Bandmann, Professor of Movement Disorders Neurology at the Sheffield Insitute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and also an Honorary Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was made possible due to the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) for Neurological Disorders.

Professor Bandmann and his team previously identified UDCA as the most promising drug to rescue mitochondrial function in Parkinson’s in a drug screen where 2,000 drugs were assessed for their rescue effect on mitochondrial function directly in the tissue of patients with Parkinson’s.

“After nearly a decade of research we are extremely pleased to launch the first clinical trial of UDCA in Parkinson’s patients to see if the drug is safe and tolerated,” said Professor Bandmann.

“This is a pilot trial, which if successful, will lead to a bigger study to firmly establish the effectiveness of the treatment to slow down progression of Parkinson’s. Currently, Parkinson’s is relentlessly progressive but patients tend to respond very well to symptomatic medication in the early stages of the disease.

“A drug which will slow down the progression of the disease – even after the first few years of diagnosis – would help people to have an improved quality of life for longer.”

The trial, known as the UP Study (UDCA in Parkinson’s) will be conducted at two centres in the UK, Sheffield and London, in collaboration with Professor Tom Foltynie at University College London Hospitals. Working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Insilico Medicine (Insigneo), the NIHR Sheffield Clinical Research Facility at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, the effectiveness of the drug will be assessed with two novel approaches:

  •  By using 31P MRI-Spectroscopy (31P-MRS), researchers will be able to quantify the function of the mitochondria to examine whether the drug successfully normalises the function of the brain tissue affected in Parkinson’s. Patients experience 31P-MRS like a normal MRI.
  • Specially designed sensors will also be used to measure the effect of UDCA on a patient’s motor impairment. The bio-sensors will be worn by patients at the beginning and end of the trial, giving more effective results than using a clinical scale which may not be objective. Repeat sensor-based objective measurements of motor impairment throughout the trial may also tell researchers whether UDCA might have the potential to slow down progression of Parkinson’s.

The clinical trial is supported by the JP Moulton Charitable Foundation, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and the pharmaceutical company PRO.MED.CS.

Helen Matthews, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust said: “Through its International Linked Clinical Trials Programme, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust has been working towards bringing UDCA into clinical trials - and this trial is the first step in understanding the drug’s potential to slow Parkinson’s progression. We are delighted to be supporting Professor Bandmann’s important work.”


Detecting diminished dopamine-firing cells inside the brain could reveal earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease

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A new link between diminished input from dopamine-firing cells deep inside the brain and the ability to form new memories could be crucial in detecting the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Sheffield have discovered a loss of cells that use dopamine – a neurotransmitter that has a number of functions including regulating movement and emotional responses – may cause the part of the brain responsible for forming new memories to function less effectively.

The findings could revolutionise screening for the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease – which affects more than 520,000 people in the UK – changing the way brain scans are acquired and interpreted as well as using different memory tests.

Lead author of the study, Professor Annalena Venneri, from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield, said: “Our findings suggest that if a small area of brain cells, called the ventral tegmental area, does not produce the right amount of dopamine for the hippocampus, a small organ located within the brain’s temporal lobe, it will not work efficiently.

“The hippocampus is associated with forming new memories, therefore these findings are crucial to the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The results point at a change which happens very early on, which might trigger Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is the first study to demonstrate such a link in humans.”

Professor Venneri and fellow lead author Dr Matteo De Marco acquired 3Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans on 51 healthy adults, 30 patients with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, and 29 patients with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 3Tesla MRIs are twice the normal strength of normal MRI scans generating the highest quality images.

The results showed a key link between the size and function of the ventral tegmental area, the size of the hippocampus and the ability to learn new material.

“More studies are necessary, but these findings could potentially lead to a new way of screening the elderly population for early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, changing the way brain scans are acquired and interpreted and using different memory tests,” said Professor Venneri who is also an Honorary Consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

“Another possible benefit is that it might lead to a different treatment option with the potential to change or halt the course of the disease very early, before major symptoms manifest.

“We now want to establish how early alterations in the ventral tegmental area can be seen and also test whether these alterations can be counteracted with treatments already available.”

The results of the study are published today (27 March 2018) in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

This study has been completed at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) in Sheffield which is dedicated to translational neuroscience for chronic neurological disorders. The Centre was launched in April 2017.

The NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre is a research partnership between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, dedicated to improving the treatment and care of people living with chronic neurological disorders.


A new collaboration with Bangladesh

Prof. Dame Pamela Shaw, Prof.Paul Ince and Prof. Ann Dalton, Director of Sheffield Diagnostic Genetics Service at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital travelled to Bangladesh last week to meet with the Director of Dhaka Shishu Hospital, Prof. Abdul Aziz and Dr. Sanjan Das, the founder of Barisal Biotechnology. 

On the 25th of March, a memorandum of understanding between the University of Sheffield UK, Dhaka Shishu Hospital and Barisal Biotechnology UK Ltd was signed to cooperate to improve health in Bangladesh by developing training opportunities for scientific and clinical staff and programs in teaching, research and clinical care provision.

 Barisal Biotech is a life sciences company with a focus on transferring UK healthcare, science knowhow, products, and knowledge based services into developing countries and worldwide, whose current focus is on Bangladesh. 

This collaboration with Dhaka Shishu Hospital is aligned with the Centre for Genomic Medicine in Dhaka, which is part of the Bangladesh Diabetic Association (BADAS) as part of a newborn screening programme. These new working links are aligned with the University of Sheffield’s ‘think global’ internationalization initiative to develop transformational change in healthcare through multidisciplinary and multicountry partnerships.

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New website launch for NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre

The Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is focused on the pull through of translational neuroscience discoveries in neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation and cerebrovascular disease into clinical studies and experimental medicine trials. This is a cross-faculty University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust collaboration, the first of it's kind in Sheffield and one of 20 NIHR BRCs around the UK. The Sheffield BRC is built in large part on the world-leading work of SITraN and offers new opportunities to progress the work done here along the tranlsational pipeline.  

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