A team of scientists at the University of Sussex are to begin a £4 million project to develop an innovative new drug for treating the devastating psychiatric condition, schizophrenia.
Building on earlier research, the Sussex Translational Drug Discovery Group are being funded by the Wellcome Trust and expect to have a compound ready for clinical evaluation in just over three years.The project officially starts on 1 August 2014.
Around 1% of the population will suffer from schizophrenia at some point in their life. The condition, which more commonly affects those in their late teens and early twenties, is diagnosed through symptoms such as paranoia and/or hearing voices, along with impairments to thought processes and motivation and an inability to function socially.
Current treatments – first developed 60 years ago – are effective at supressing the delusional episodes by blocking the brain’s dopamine receptors (dopamine is a chemical in the brain associated with reward and pleasure), but they have little effect on the other symptoms.
These largely untreated symptoms remain a huge barrier to the resumption of a fully functional “normal” life for these individuals and are associated with an annual estimated cost in the UK alone of around £12 billion.
The Sussex team are taking a new approach by looking at another of the brain’s key chemicals, glutamate, levels of which are altered in schizophrenia. Glutamate is associated with attention, memory and problem solving.
Brain cells (neurons) communicate with each other by releasing chemicals, such as glutamate, that react with proteins, called receptors, on adjacent neurons. The actions of glutamate are mediated by several types of neuron receptors of which one, the AMPA receptor, is particularly important. Increasing AMPA receptor function should compensate for the dysfunction in glutamate neurotransmission and should improve cognitive performance in, and thereby revolutionise the treatment of, schizophrenia.