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Blood Cells Could Accelerate Drug Discovery for Mental Health Disorders

May Lead to Personalized Treatment for Schizophrenia, Other Illnesses

A University of Cambridge-led team of scientists have developed a method that could drastically speed up the search for new medications for treating disorders such as schizophrenia. Mental-health disorders are the world’s leading cause of disability, and there has been no development of any new neuropsychiatric drugs with improved treatment effects in the last few decades.

However, in a study published in Science Advances, the researchers show that live blood cells from patients with mental health disorders could help identify potential targets for drug-discovery research.

Because psychiatric disorders are increasingly being recognized as disorders of the whole body, the researchers propose directly exploring live cellular function as a model for disease.

Previous research indicates a strong link between blood cells and the way in which the central nervous system operates. Patients with bacterial infections, for example, often show depression-like symptoms. This makes blood cells ideal for testing potential new drugs. Also, evidence shows that the use of patients’ primary cells in drug development results in a higher success rate for effective drug discovery.

The researchers analyzed cells from 42 patients with schizophrenia and screened thousands of possible compounds for new drugs. They focused on discovering new psychiatric uses for drugs that are routinely prescribed for other conditions, such as high blood pressure. Such “repurposing” can drastically reduce the time and cost it takes to bring a new drug to the clinic.

In addition, existing psychiatric treatments can be tested on blood cells from a patient, which might enable researchers to predict how effective those treatments would be for each individual. This would overcome a major barrier as many patients fail to respond to first-line treatments. To do this, the team tested blood samples from patients with schizophrenia before and after clinical treatment, collected through a network of international collaborators.

According to the researchers, the study has the potential to substantially accelerate drug discovery and individualized medicine not only for neuropsychiatric disorders but for other human diseases.

Source: Cambridge University, May 9, 2019

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