Sheffield Institute for
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Royal recognition for neuroscience research at the University of Sheffield

Her Majesty The Queen with Professor Dame Pamela Shaw at the opening of SITraN in 2010.

Neuroscience research at the University of Sheffield has been recognised by Her Majesty The Queen for delivering real benefits in improving patient outcomes for people living with some of the most devastating neurodegenerative diseases.

The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) based at the University of Sheffield was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize today (21 November 2019) at St James’s Palace.

The prize awarded to SITraN is unique in the honours system and only bestowed upon a UK college or university which demonstrates new and innovative approaches to its research and development that have delivered benefits to the public at local, national and global levels.


SITraN’s vision is to harness the rapidly emerging, exciting developments in neuroscience to translate into new treatments and improved quality of life for patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Achievements highlighted by the award include:

  • a new orthotic device, ‘HeadUp’, for patients living with MND who suffer from muscle weakness in their neck
  • groundbreaking clinical stem cell clinical trials for MS patients
  • research which has improved the life-expectancy and quality of life for those living with MND
  • the discovery of a biomarker linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease for the first time, which has the potential for earlier diagnosis and has sparked the development of new therapies
  • drug discovery programmes to develop new treatments for Parkinson’s Disease
  • new gene therapy experimental medicine studies for MND which are showing promising early results

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, Director of SITraN, said: “Receiving this award is a great honour. It gives recognition to our research teams who have made enormous scientific progress in treating some of the most devastating neurological diseases, making a real difference to patients’ lives.

“We hope that this award will inspire confidence for patients and their families, research partners and donors as we continue to make discoveries that deepen the understanding of neurological diseases and open up the potential for new treatments and therapies.”

SITraN – which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2020 – is considered a world-leader in neuroscience research. Its work forms part of the University of Sheffield’s Neuroscience Institute, which aims to bring academics together from across varied specialties to translate scientific discoveries from the lab into pioneering treatments that will benefit people living with neurodegenerative diseases.

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: “It’s wonderful to see the Queen’s Anniversary Award recognising the University of Sheffield as a centre for excellence in neuroscience research and teaching which has the power to transform people’s lives.

“As well as making life-changing discoveries today, SITraN is nurturing the next generation of talented neuroscience students, whose research will lead to pioneering treatments for those living with neurological diseases in the future.”

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw at the Queen's Anniversary Prize Ceremony at St. James's Palace (21 November 2019)

Chair of the Royal Anniversary Trust, Sir Damon Buffini, said: “The prizes are granted every two years by the Queen and are the most prestigious national honour awarded to UK universities and colleges for their work.
“Entries in the scheme are invited in any subject area and are subjected to rigorous independent assessment in a process managed by the Royal Anniversary Trust. Recommendations for the Queen’s approval are made on the Prime Minister’s advice.

“The criteria are demanding and look for outstanding excellence in the chosen field, for innovation and for evidence of real public benefit. Competition is strong and the award is a mark of high quality in education and training which is widely recognised internationally as well as in the UK.”


Dr Hautbergue elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology



Congratulations to Dr Guillaume Hautbergue, Department of Neuroscience, who has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in recognition of his “prominent contribution to the advancement of the biological sciences” as a Senior Lecturer in Translational RNA Biology.

Dr Hautbergue joined the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) in August 2012 to set up a specialist laboratory for RNA Molecular Biology. His area of research and teaching focuses on the investigation of gene expression in physiological and neurodegenerative diseases with a particular research focus on motor neurone disease (MND).

Research in his group aims at identifying dysregulated gene expression events that cause incurable neurodegenerative conditions such as MND in order to correct these using gene therapy approaches.

Dr Hautbergue and colleagues showed for the first time that manipulating a cellular process involved in the transport of RNA molecules across nuclear pores confers a novel potential promising strategy of neuroprotection for the most common form of MND.

Throughout his career, Dr Hautbergue has had a variety of roles across the RNA field which have allowed him to become an advisor to students and colleagues on translational and RNA biology experiments. As an elected member of the Royal Society of Biology, Dr Hautbergue will also contribute to policy making, strategy and influence developments in science within the Royal Society of Biology.

Having grown up in a small village in Burgundy in rural France, Dr Hautbergue developed an interest in the biology behind things from an early age. He said: “From the age of 12, I became so fascinated by biology that for my 14th birthday, I had built with my father a lab bench in my bedroom. It was great and pleased everyone at home as I used to perform experiments with chemicals as well as microscopic observations with insects or small animals on the kitchen dining table.”

On being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, Dr Hautbergue said: “It is a great honour and privilege to have been invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB) following a nomination and a review process that was unknown to me.”

“Being recognised by others I don’t know, but who have judged the research I carry with passion as a prominent contribution to the advancement of biological sciences is an incredible feeling at this stage of my career. It is difficult to find words. It is with great excitement and enthusiasm that I will engage with the other members of the Royal Society of Biology.”

Dr Hautbergue added: “None of this would have been possible without the excellent researchers that are surrounding me, both junior and senior, as well as all of the technical and professional teams that support our work. I would like to thank all of them for the inspiring research and teaching atmosphere they create in the Department of Neuroscience.

"In particular, I express my deepest acknowledgements to Dr Lydia Castelli and Dr Ya-Hui (Erica) Lin who are talented postdoctoral researchers in my team and to the fantastic collaborators I feel lucky to routinely work with. These include Prof Dame Pamela Shaw, Prof Mimoun Azzouz, Dr Laura Ferraiuolo, Dr Alex Withworth, Dr Marta Milo and Dr Tennore Ramesh. I am also immensely grateful to the patrons that support our Institute and the patients with MND who kindly provide biosamples which are essential to our research.”

Being part of the Royal Society of Biology means that Dr Hautbergue joins a community of over 17,500 leading minds that make up the diverse membership of individuals and organisations from across the world.

Read more about Dr Hautbergue’s achievements and experiences here


Dr Laura Ferraiuolo wins 2019 Paulo Gontijo Award


Dr Laura Ferraiuolo, from the Department of Neuroscience and Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has achieved international recognition for her work to investigate the causes and treatment of motor neurone disease (MND).

Dr Ferraiuolo has been awarded the 11th Paulo Gontijo Award in recognition of her work on the contribution of glial cells in the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and their importance as a therapeutic target. The award was judged rigorously by the jury committee of the Paulo Gontijo Institute (IPG), composed of five researchers recognised by the international scientific community.Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), has achieved international recognition for her work to investigate the causes and treatment of motor neurone disease (MND).

Established in 2007, the Paulo Gontijo Award recognises young researchers below 40 years of age who have dedicated their scientific work to investigate the causes and treatment of motor neuron disease.

Dr Ferraiuolo is a Reader in Translational Neurobiology, the work of her research group has demonstrated that glia play an active role in neuronal degeneration. Her lab uses various in vitro cell models, including primary cells and genetically reprogrammed human progenitor cells, to investigate the interaction between astrocytes and oligodendrocytes from patients affected by MND with neurons.

Dr Ferraiuolo said: "I am grateful to the patients affected by MND who are at the centre of my research efforts and a constant motivation to work hard to find new therapeutic approaches for this devastating disease. Being recognised for the work I have carried out over the years with my team, amongst inspiring leading scientists in the field who have previously received the Paulo Gontijo award is a great honour. I am lucky to be surrounded by excellent scientists at SITraN, all driven to unravel the complex processes leading to neurodegeneration".

The award ceremony will take place in December 2019 during the opening of the International Symposium on ALS/MND in Perth, Australia, where Dr Ferraiuolo will present her winning paper to the scientific community. 


Liver drug trialled in Parkinson’s patients as novel treatment approach

A drug which has been used to treat liver disease for over 30 years is being trialled in patients with Parkinson’s Disease to determine its safety and tolerability in Parkinson’s, but also to assess its potential to slow down disease progression for the first time.

The ground-breaking study, led by researchers at the University of Sheffield in partnership with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will assess the safety and tolerability of the liver drug ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) in Parkinson’s patients – a drug which is hoped could potentially be repositioned to help slow down the progression of the disease.

Parkinson’s Disease currently affects around 145,000 people in the UK. The progressive neurological condition severely affects a patient’s quality of life and symptoms include problems with mobility such as walking, coordination or tremor, but can also result in memory loss, low mood or abnormal bowel function.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s are mainly due to the loss of dopamine containing nerve cells in the area of the brain which controls movement. An important reason why these cells die in the brain of patients with Parkinsons is due to a malfunction of the cell’s batteries – known as mitochondria.

The trial, led by Oliver Bandmann, Professor of Movement Disorders Neurology at the Sheffield Insitute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and also an Honorary Consultant Neurologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was made possible due to the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) for Neurological Disorders.

Professor Bandmann and his team previously identified UDCA as the most promising drug to rescue mitochondrial function in Parkinson’s in a drug screen where 2,000 drugs were assessed for their rescue effect on mitochondrial function directly in the tissue of patients with Parkinson’s.

“After nearly a decade of research we are extremely pleased to launch the first clinical trial of UDCA in Parkinson’s patients to see if the drug is safe and tolerated,” said Professor Bandmann.

“This is a pilot trial, which if successful, will lead to a bigger study to firmly establish the effectiveness of the treatment to slow down progression of Parkinson’s. Currently, Parkinson’s is relentlessly progressive but patients tend to respond very well to symptomatic medication in the early stages of the disease.

“A drug which will slow down the progression of the disease – even after the first few years of diagnosis – would help people to have an improved quality of life for longer.”

The trial, known as the UP Study (UDCA in Parkinson’s) will be conducted at two centres in the UK, Sheffield and London, in collaboration with Professor Tom Foltynie at University College London Hospitals. Working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Insilico Medicine (Insigneo), the NIHR Sheffield Clinical Research Facility at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and the NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, the effectiveness of the drug will be assessed with two novel approaches:

  •  By using 31P MRI-Spectroscopy (31P-MRS), researchers will be able to quantify the function of the mitochondria to examine whether the drug successfully normalises the function of the brain tissue affected in Parkinson’s. Patients experience 31P-MRS like a normal MRI.
  • Specially designed sensors will also be used to measure the effect of UDCA on a patient’s motor impairment. The bio-sensors will be worn by patients at the beginning and end of the trial, giving more effective results than using a clinical scale which may not be objective. Repeat sensor-based objective measurements of motor impairment throughout the trial may also tell researchers whether UDCA might have the potential to slow down progression of Parkinson’s.

The clinical trial is supported by the JP Moulton Charitable Foundation, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and the pharmaceutical company PRO.MED.CS.

Helen Matthews, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust said: “Through its International Linked Clinical Trials Programme, The Cure Parkinson’s Trust has been working towards bringing UDCA into clinical trials - and this trial is the first step in understanding the drug’s potential to slow Parkinson’s progression. We are delighted to be supporting Professor Bandmann’s important work.”


Detecting diminished dopamine-firing cells inside the brain could reveal earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease

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A new link between diminished input from dopamine-firing cells deep inside the brain and the ability to form new memories could be crucial in detecting the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Sheffield have discovered a loss of cells that use dopamine – a neurotransmitter that has a number of functions including regulating movement and emotional responses – may cause the part of the brain responsible for forming new memories to function less effectively.

The findings could revolutionise screening for the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease – which affects more than 520,000 people in the UK – changing the way brain scans are acquired and interpreted as well as using different memory tests.

Lead author of the study, Professor Annalena Venneri, from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) at the University of Sheffield, said: “Our findings suggest that if a small area of brain cells, called the ventral tegmental area, does not produce the right amount of dopamine for the hippocampus, a small organ located within the brain’s temporal lobe, it will not work efficiently.

“The hippocampus is associated with forming new memories, therefore these findings are crucial to the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The results point at a change which happens very early on, which might trigger Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is the first study to demonstrate such a link in humans.”

Professor Venneri and fellow lead author Dr Matteo De Marco acquired 3Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans on 51 healthy adults, 30 patients with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, and 29 patients with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 3Tesla MRIs are twice the normal strength of normal MRI scans generating the highest quality images.

The results showed a key link between the size and function of the ventral tegmental area, the size of the hippocampus and the ability to learn new material.

“More studies are necessary, but these findings could potentially lead to a new way of screening the elderly population for early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, changing the way brain scans are acquired and interpreted and using different memory tests,” said Professor Venneri who is also an Honorary Consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

“Another possible benefit is that it might lead to a different treatment option with the potential to change or halt the course of the disease very early, before major symptoms manifest.

“We now want to establish how early alterations in the ventral tegmental area can be seen and also test whether these alterations can be counteracted with treatments already available.”

The results of the study are published today (27 March 2018) in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

This study has been completed at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) in Sheffield which is dedicated to translational neuroscience for chronic neurological disorders. The Centre was launched in April 2017.

The NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre is a research partnership between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, dedicated to improving the treatment and care of people living with chronic neurological disorders.

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