Growing human pain neurons
Background: Looking at rare individuals who have never felt pain, the clinical pain team at Addenbrooke's is examining how pain neurons develop and what happens when they malfunction.
The team has already found mutations in some genes indicating that these neurons do not respond to stimuli that would normally hurt. However, they don't know why this occurs. Greater understanding is being hampered by the fact that pain neurons are highly specialised cells which cannot be extracted from humans for study and are difficult to grow in culture.
A new technology has now emerged where stems cells, extracted from blood or skin samples, can be induced to become pain neurons.
The application: We have funded a pilot research study in which the team will establish how to obtain stem cells from individuals and grow nerve cells in culture in the laboratory. This will form the ground work that will allow the team to develop the research further and examine how genetic changes cause abnormal pain states.
Comment from the committee: "The researchers will be using the learning from this study to develop new approaches to pain treatment and new analgesics for pain relief.”
Research title: To grow human pain neurons for investigating clinical pain states
Applicants: Professor Woods and Professor Menon
Amount awarded: £20,000 from ACT's unrestricted research funds
Measuring Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down’s syndrome
Background: People with Down’s syndrome are at very high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and do so at younger ages, compared to the general population. EEG (a technology which records brain activity through electrodes placed on the scalp) may have a role to play in screening this ‘at risk’ population.
The research: The aim of this study is to investigate whether EEG, which is entirely safe, relatively cheap and undemanding for participants, has the potential to both measure the effects of aging on the brain and indicate early stages of Alzheimer’s in people with Down’s syndrome.
Comment from the committee: “This is a worthwhile and well designed study.”
Research title: EEG measures of aging and Alzheimer’s disease in Down’s Syndrome
Grant applicants: Sally Jennings, Howard Ring and Anthony Holland
Amount awarded: £10,000 from ACT’s general medical research funds
Treating cervical cancers
Background: Large cervix cancers are potentially curable using external pelvic radiotherapy, followed by internal radiotherapy to the cervix (brachytherapy). The aim of this treatment is to eradicate the cancer, while minimising long-term side effects to the bowel and bladder. Older brachytherapy methods could not identify pelvic organs and/or cancer clearly, but this is now possible with a new method of image-guided brachytherapy (IGBT).
One hospital, which has already trialed IGBT, reported a 20 per cent improvement in eradicating the cancer and a 10 per cent reduction in side effects, compared with older brachytherapy methods. Not all patients benefited from the treatment, however.
The research: This study will look at uncertainties with IGBT that could account for variations in outcomes and establish ways of limiting these for future treatment. These results could help form new national and international guidelines for IBGT.
Comment from the committee: “This is a very worthwhile study and we are impressed with the applicants’ achievements to date with other sources of funding”.
Research title: Factors affecting variation in brachytherapy planning in the treatment of cervical carcinoma
Grant applicants: Vivien Tse and Li Tee Tan
Amount awarded: £15,235 from ACT’s cancer research fund
Background: Patients who have a tumour in the nerve of balance in their inner ear, often need to have it removed, leaving their sense of balance and equilibrium impaired.
The research: With this study, researchers will investigate the optimal way of implanting a prosthetic device into the inner ear (vestibular implants) of patients who have lost balance function. Good positioning of the implant is important for it to work well and is currently performed with the patient under general anaesthetic, using eye movements evoked by a small electrical impulse applied to the inner ear as a guide. This new research will better understand the relationship between stimulation of the inner ear, eye movements and the activity of the balance nerve itself with the aim of optimising the positioning of the implant.
Comment from the grants committee: “We are supportive of this proof of principle study which would advance knowledge and improve patient outcomes. Research title: Fundamental investigation of vestibular function – is it possible to measure intraoperative electrically evoked vestibular function?
Grant applicants: James Johnston, Neil Donnelly, James Tysome and Dr Richard Knight.
Amount awarded: £4,800 from ACT’s unrestricted funds.
- A full list of projects funded in 2014 can be found here.
- More about the patient support projects we fund can be found on our recently funded projects pages.
- Our Grants Bulletin reviews the initiatives that are awarded charitable funding each quarter. If you would like to know more about any of these projects, then please do contact the office. Similarly, if you would like to make a donation so we can continue to make a real contribution to important research, then visit our make a donation page. Thank you so much.