Sheffield Institute for
Translational Neuroscience


SITraN Communications
Rebecca Brown
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Latest News


University raises £4,000 to fight neurological conditions, with help from Elton John

The University of Sheffield has raised £4,000 for the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), an institution devoted to research into neurological diseases such as Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson’s Disease, thanks to the help of Elton John.

Sir Elton John kindly donated tickets for a recent concert, the proceeds of which will be put towards a fundraising initiative to buy cutting edge equipment, which will greatly expand the Institute’s capability of techniques for investigating neurodegenerative diseases at the level of DNA. This will help develop knowledge of the disease process and help to identify the best way to develop new therapies for these distressing disorders.

Professor Pamela Shaw, Director of SITraN, said: “The SITraN research team and I are very grateful to Sir Elton John and his colleagues for this very generous donation which will contribute towards a vital piece of research equipment. We know that having the best equipment here in Sheffield will be invaluable in progressing the understanding of the mechanisms of Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson’s Disease and advancing the development of new therapies for these devastating conditions.”

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University receives prestigious award for raising £11 million in support for SITraN

UK education council CASE Europe praised philanthropy at the University of Sheffield which has raised more than £11 million in the last three years as part of the Government match funding initiative for higher education.

The University's Development and Alumni Relations office were set a challenge to raise over £8.25 million in three years, which would then be match funded up to £2.75 million by the Government. Based on data from Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE), during the past three years Sheffield has shown the most significant and sustained improvement in the top tier of the scheme.

Thanks to the generosity of supporters, the hard work of staff, and over 5,000 new charitable donations, they exceeded their target, triggering the match funding which was instrumental in the development of the state-of-the-art Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN).  The award was presented at an evening reception in London on 3 May 2012 to University Vice-Chancellor Professor Keith Burnett, Director of the world-class SITraN facility Professor Pam Shaw, and Director of Development and Alumni Relations Miles Stevenson, by Professor Eric Thomas, Chair of the Board of CASE Europe, and the Rt Hon David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science.

Once again a big thank-you to all our supporters and donors who continue to support the vital work being undertaken in SITraN.



Sheffield clinician joins world bid to find a cure for Parkinson's Disease

Researchers from the University of Sheffield are taking part in the world's biggest ever in-depth study tracking people with Parkinson's in order to unlock further secrets about the neurological disorder to boost the chances of finding a cure.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is one of the key centres in the UK taking part in the £1.6 million research funded by Parkinson's UK. Dr Oliver Bandmann, Consultant Neurologist and Reader in Neurology at the University of Sheffield, is leading the research locally. Based at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), his research team focuses on the development of new model systems for Parkinson's and their use for drug screens in an academic setting.

Dr Bandmann said: "Finding a cure for Parkinson's is what every researcher in the field dreams about. Tracking Parkinson's is a major new research project and we are very excited to be involved right at the beginning. This study really offers hope for the future for people with Parkinson's and we need eligible people in Sheffield to volunteer to help us make our vision of a cure a reality."

Leading research and support charity Parkinson's UK have chosen the opening day of Parkinson's Awareness Week (16 April-22 April 2012) to put out an urgent call for 3,000 volunteers to take part in the ground-breaking Tracking Parkinson's clinical study. The charity is appealing for both people recently diagnosed with Parkinson's (within the last three years) and those who were under the age of 50 at diagnosis – along with their siblings - to take part in the study.

The primary aim of the research is to identify elusive biomarkers for Parkinson's, such as signpost indicators in the blood, that could help develop simple tests, like blood tests, for use as diagnostic tools. Despite the best efforts of researchers worldwide no biomarkers have yet been identified for Parkinson's. Early diagnosis is crucial if doctors are to be able to prescribe the right drugs for people with Parkinson's to control – and, one day hopefully, even cure - their condition. The responses of people with Parkinson's to treatments for distressing symptoms like tremors, movement problems, anxiety, memory lapses and digestion problems will be closely monitored for up to five years.

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Professor acknowledged for pioneering work in gene therapy with prestigious EU award

Professor Mimoun Azzouz from the University of Sheffield has been presented with a €2.5m award from the European Research Council (ERC) for his groundbreaking work in gene therapy for neurodegenerative diseases.

Professor Azzouz, Chair of Translational Neuroscience at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has been recognised with the prestigious and highly competitive ERC Advanced Investigator Award, a great distinction in European biomedical research. The outstanding achievement allows Professor Azzouz and his team to expand the horizon of translational research at SITraN and develop tools for efficient, safe and selective delivery of therapies to the central nervous system (CNS) to treat neurological disorders. His research team will also undertake studies in order to gain a better understanding of disease mechanisms at the molecular and cellular levels in two devastating neurodegenerative diseases, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and Motor Neuron Disease (MND).

Professor Azzouz said: "I am delighted to be presented with this prestigious award. This is a wonderful achievement which will enhance the research capability and profile of my research team as well as neuroscience research in Sheffield. This award now offers me a platform to reinforce my, and SITRaN's, European and international leadership in the field of gene therapy for neurodegenerative disease."

SITraN is an essential development in the fight against Motor Neuron Disease and other common neurodegenerative disorders of the motor system. Professor Azzouz has a long-standing interest in developing gene therapy approaches for neurodegenerative diseases. Professor Azzouz and his team utilise viral based gene transfer systems both for research and gene therapy applications. Such viral systems have included lentiviruses and adeno-associated vectors. His research focuses on developing new therapeutic strategies for Motor Neuron Diseases and Parkinson's disease. He also collaborates with other groups looking at new experimental approaches for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

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Major trial gives hope to Motor Neurone Disease sufferers

Patients suffering from a devastating disease are being given fresh hope through an innovative trial being led by the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.

The trial uses a new device to see if it can help patients with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a condition that leads to muscle weakness and ultimately death, to live for longer and with a better quality of life. Patients with the disease, which affects around two in every 100,000 people in the United Kingdom, experience weakness of the limbs, have difficulty with speech, swallowing, and breathing. Weakness of breathing muscles including the diaphragm (the main breathing muscle), usually results in death within two to three years.

In the revolutionary trial patients with MND are having a device – called a diaphragm pacing (DP) system – implanted to help increase the strength of their main breathing muscle. Small electrodes are implanted into the diaphragm, while a small external stimulator delivers electric pulses, strengthening the muscle. Patients carry a small device that enables them to switch the pulses on and off.

The study, called DiPALS, is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme and the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA), to a value of over £1.3m. It will compare use of the device with the standard treatment for MND, which involves providing the patient with ventilation through a mask. The trial will take place at five different sites across the country, and will see 108 patients taking part, with half receiving the device and half the standard treatment.

After 12 months, patients with the device can choose to stay with it or revert to standard treatment. It is hoped that the device will prove to have benefits that are not gained through standard treatment. For example, not all patients are able to tolerate standard treatment, as it can interfere with communication and eating, and the ventilator can restrict mobility. Use of the device could potentially provide patients with a better quality of life, and life span.

Dr Christopher McDermott, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Neurology at the University of Sheffield and Honorary Consultant Neurologist, who is leading the study, said: "It's excellent that we've been able to gain such generous funding to trial diaphragm pacing in a large-scale study. The technique has shown promise in our pilot series, and so we are pleased to have the opportunity to fully assess the devices and establish if they can provide benefits to patients.

"Treatments for breathing difficulties in MND have improved in recent years, but this trial will establish whether we can improve the quality of life and life expectancy of MND patients even further. We hope, if proven to be of benefit, that diaphragm pacing could become standard treatment in the NHS."

Patient Malcolm Chattle, 70, of Crookes, Sheffield was diagnosed with MND in 2006 and had the device implanted as part of a pilot version of the trial in 2009. He said: "The disease was making it difficult for me to breathe, and as a result I was having trouble sleeping. Having the device has really helped me to breathe and has improved my quality of life. The device means I can still walk quite a distance, and I can sleep much better. Using the device is very simple – I just have to switch it on at night. The staff have also been great and very helpful. I'm really pleased this trial is taking place, as it should help lots of patients in the future."

The trial will conclude in 2014, when all the results will be brought together. The research will take place in NHS Hospital settings in Sheffield (Royal Hallamshire Hospital), Oxford (John Radcliffe Hospital), Newcastle upon Tyne (Royal Victoria Infirmary), Manchester (University Hospital of South Manchester and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust Hospital), Birmingham (University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust).

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