Sheffield Institute for
Translational Neuroscience


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Rebecca Brown
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Latest News


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).


New MSc Course in Clinical Neurology is launched at SITraN for the New Academic Year 2012-2013

The Department of Neuroscience and SITraN has launched its second MSc msc_clinical_neurology.pngcourse in September 2012 to complement the MSc in Translational Neuroscience which ran successfully from September 2011. 

The MSc in Clinical Neurology, working with NHS colleagues, provides the students with an in-depth overview of a range of neurological diseases, their symptoms and treatments as well as giving students the opportunity of attending clinics to consolidate that theory. 

We welcomed sixteen students to the department and SITraN in 2012, [9 Home/EU and 7 International], including one student funded by the prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship.  Applications for 2013 are substantially higher so the department looks forward to continued interest in these courses in the coming years. 


University developments recognised as Yorkshire's finest

Two University of Sheffield developments were honoured at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Pro-Yorkshire Awards 2011 last week (20 May 2011).

The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and the Western Bank Library beat off competition from the rest of Yorkshire's most impressive property schemes to win. SITraN scooped the award for Best Design and Innovation, whilst Western Bank Library won the award for Best Building Conservation. The RICS Pro-Yorkshire Awards celebrates inspirational initiatives in the land, property and construction sectors. From an entry of 69 projects from all over Yorkshire and Humberside, 56 schemes were shortlisted for eight RICS category trophies.

The award for SITraN is another in a series of accolades that the institute has received since its opening by Her Majesty the Queen in November last year. SITraN also won the award for Best Commercial Development at the South Yorkshire and Humber Local Authority Building Excellence Awards in April. Also in April, the Duke of Devonshire, Honorary Patron of SITraN, addressed an audience at the institute's first public open day. Professor Pamela Shaw, Head of Department at SITraN, said of the RICS Award: "This is wonderful recognition for the talented teams that designed and built the SITraN building. Research on Motor NeuronDdisease and related neurodegenerative disorders now has state of the art facilities in Sheffield. These will have a huge impact on the speed and quality of our research, in terms of creating benefits for patients and our ability to attract talented clinicians and scientists from around the world to join our research effort in the city of Sheffield."

Opened by poet T.S. Eliot in 1959, the University's Western Bank Library is widely regarded as one of the most significant academic buildings of the immediate post-war period, and was designed to hold over a million books. A refurbishment project completed last year saw the building restore its distinctive original features whilst updating the building's facilities for current library users. Martin Lewis, Director of Library Services, said: "I'm very pleased, on behalf of the project team and the University Library staff, that the sensitive redevelopment of this fine building has been recognized by RICS. It follows the project's success at the Royal Institute of British Architects White Rose Awards and Sheffield Design Awards and reflects the outstanding quality of both the design and execution."

David Briggs, Project Manager of the SITraN development, commented: "It's satisfying for the whole team that their efforts in delivering this excellent building have been rewarded. Combined with the award for the Western Bank Library, this demonstrates the University's commitment to combining both modern and sympathetic design with the world leading research which takes place within."

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