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Funding and Impact

There are currently no funding calls from the BRC neurosciences programme, please check back again soon. 

We have funded groundbreaking experimental medicine research projects in the Neurosciences programme:

Dr Harpreet Hyare, from the UCL Centre for Medical Imaging, will investigate whether a combination of genetic and physiological imaging data can indicate how patients with glioblastoma will respond to treatment and how tumours will progress.  

Glioblastomas are the most common and deadliest of malignant primary brain tumors. Despite advances in treatment, five year survival of patients is still poor at less than 10%. 

The aim of this study is to determine whether Amide Proton Transfer (APT) imaging, a type of MRI thought to image protein content at cellular level, shows increased signal in glioblastomas which can be detected and quantified on the APT-MRI colour map.  The signal will be correlated with molecular fingerprints of the tumour. Using APT, combined with conventional MRI, should enable the initiation of earlier treatment options and individually tailored treatments that would optimise patient outcome.

Dr Orlando Swayne, from the UCL Institute of Neurology, will assess the relationship between genetics and recovery in neurologically related disability.

Patients who suffer stroke and other neurological illnesses typically undergo a period of neuro-rehabilitation. This therapy may have a beneficial effect on patients’ ability to live independently, however some respond far better than others for reasons that are currently unclear.

This process of brain re-organisation is known as ‘neuroplasticity’, and it is possible genes related to neuroplasticity are important in determining how well patients respond to rehabilitation.

Dr Swayne and his team plan to collect DNA from patients who are admitted to the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery for rehabilitation to create a database of information relating to their neurological recovery. The DNA will be tested for relevant variations and to determine what role these genes may play in the recovery process.

In a subset of patients the team will also use a non-invasive testing method called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to measure individual patients’ capacity for neuroplasticity. TMS involves stimulating the brain using induced currents to measure the connection between the brain and a muscle to evaluate damage from stroke and other neurological illnesses.

The team anticipate that if they can establish a link between impaired neuroplasticity and poor recovery then this would provide the rationale for a subsequent trial of medication to enhance this and potentially improve recovery in this group of patients.

Dr Jon Roiser, from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, will assess if genetic material relating to dopamine is contained in peripheral blood samples, potentially paving the way for inexpensive blood tests instead of costly scans to tell us more about psychiatric illnesses and how best to treat them.

Many psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are thought to relate to abnormalities of the dopamine system. This system affects brain processes that control movement and emotional response and the regulation of dopamine plays a crucial role in our mental and physical health.

Currently neuro-imaging methods are used to assess individuals’ dopamine system, however they are very expensive to carry out. Dr Roiser and his team will analyse more economical peripheral blood samples for dopamine-related genes to see if genetic material contains information relating to the functioning of the dopamine system in the brain.

Peripheral blood is blood flowing through our arteries, veins and capillaries, but removed or remote from the heart muscle itself.

Dr Parashkev Nachev, from the UCL Institute of Neurology, will capture real-time limb movement in stroke patients from data gathered from motion capture technology to optimise stroke care.

Impaired movement following acute stroke is currently quantified only by manual assessment, however using data from computer technology could help medical professionals design targeted rehabilitation techniques.

Dr Nachev and his team plan to develop a remote, low-cost, motion capture system for the Hyperacute Stroke Unit at UCLH, to help determine the functional status of patients after stroke.

Based on Microsoft's Kinect 2 technology, the system automatically parameterises body movement and reports activity over time classified by limb and joint, allowing clinicians to monitor changes in focal neurological deficits during the patient's admission.

Dr Pedro Machado, from the UCL Institute of Neurology, will carry out biomarker analysis in patients with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), an inflammatory muscle disease characterised by slowly progressive weakness and wasting of both distal and proximal muscles, most apparent in the muscles of the arms and legs, potentially resulting in earlier diagnosis and improved treatment of the disease.

There is no effective treatment for patients with IBM and the precise cause of this muscle disease is not known. Dr Machado and his team plan to analyse blood samples for DNA, RNA or future biomarker analysis in a cohort of IBM patients.

Findings will be correlated with clinical features and disease progression to improve our understanding of IBM.

Dr Katie Sidle, from the UCL Institute of Neurology, will investigate biomarkers to improve diagnosis of motor neurone diseases (MND).

MND causes muscle weakness and paralysis as a result of the damage and loss of motor neurone cells in brain and spinal cord. The diagnosis of MND is still largely clinical and there is often a long delay between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis. Dr Sidle and her team will examine post-mortem MND tissue samples from the brain and spinal cord, along with detailed clinical histories, for the expression of known and newly discovered genetic mutations, proteins and abnormally folded proteins.

Well-characterised disease biomarkers could be utilised to enable rapid accurate diagnosis of MND and provide disease progression markers for measuring the effectiveness of treatments. On top of this, insights may be gained into biological mechanisms causing the damage and loss of motor neurone cells.

Examples of the Neurosciences programme impact on health care includes:

Visual defects in epilepsy surgery Professors Tarek Yousry and John Duncan and colleagues have demonstrated that by displaying optic radiation [tractography] preoperatively improves patients outcomes Click here to read the paper

Professor Mike Hanna has developed new service specification documents for NHS England that include requirements for cohort entry for neglected rare diseases as part of clinical practice.

Professors David Miller and Alan Thompson led on disease modifying therapy [Tecfidera] and phenotypes in MS, respectively. Dimethylfumarate (Tecfidera) was approved by NICE as a new disease modifying treatment for NHS patients with relapsing remitting MS.

Professor Joanna Zakrzewska lead on the development of key reports on facial pain and headache services.