UK DRI Centre Director partners with NHS Foundation Trust for new research in Cambridge

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In Dementia Action Week, a unique research group, has been launched to test promising new drugs for dementia, including one of the world’s first studies with an antidepressant that could stop the disease progressing.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust has partnered with the University of Cambridge to set up the Gnodde Goldman Sachs Translational Neuroscience Group as part of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) at the University of Cambridge, led by Professor Giovanna Mallucci.

The collaboration links CPFT’s top-performing Windsor Research Unit with international research facilities on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, funded by a generous philanthropic donation from Kara and Richard Gnodde and supported by the National Institute for Health Research.

Professor Mallucci, Professor of Clinical Neurosciences and Centre Director of the UK DRI at the University of Cambridge said: 

“Huge progress has been made over the last ten years in identifying new potential drugs for dementia. The challenge is how to translate these exciting scientific discoveries to benefit patients. Laboratory tests show that the production of essential proteins needed to keep brain cells alive and functioning is often disrupted in mouse models of dementia.  We have been able to identify the cellular pathway that controls this and potential drugs to restore it. One drug which does this in the laboratory is trazodone, used for many years as an antidepressant, which is a licensed drug and can therefore quickly enter trials.  The group has already developed a novel brain scan which can look at protein production in the brain in patients to reveal if the drug is having an effect.”

Dr Ben Underwood, consultant psychiatrist and lead for the project in CPFT said:

“The Trust provides dementia care for thousands of patients in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and this partnership will bring them the latest research and treatments from the lab. As a doctor it is so exciting to see the ground breaking work in medical journals become real treatments which we can evaluate in patients.  Finding new treatments which slow the disease down is essential if we are to improve the outlook for these conditions, and trazodone has potential to be one of these drugs. The team at the Windsor Research Unit have recruited the first patients to test it.”

The pioneering trial will compare brain scans of patients with and without a diagnosis to assess whether healthy proteins are being produced in patients taking trazodone. The cutting-edge brain scan is the first of its kind to be used in a UK clinical setting.

The group has worked closely with Professor John O’Brien, NIHR Specialty Lead for Dementia and consultant in old age psychiatry at CPFT, to set up the study. He said: 

“If the trial is successful it could potentially revolutionise dementia treatment and provide patients with the first effective drug to significantly slow down or stabilise their condition, or even reverse dementia for people in the early stages. All patients should be offered an opportunity to try new treatments and take part in research, and this new group offers the chance for local residents to be part of major new advances in understanding and treating dementias, working with international experts in top facilities.”