Media Release |
Nov. 26, 2004
Brain Researchers to Develop New Class of Drugs to Repair
“Smart” drugs capable of targeting specific brain
cells to control psychiatric disorders such as autism and
schizophrenia may be ready for early clinical trials within
three years, with the launch of a $1.5 million project to
take place at the Brain Research Centre (BRC), a partnership
of the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal
Health Research Institute (VCHRI).
The new drugs would be the first significant change in decades
to medications used to treat psychiatric disorders, says neuroscientist
and team leader Yu Tian Wang, a UBC professor of Medicine
and BRC member.
“We’re designing a whole new generation of medications
that will work only on brain cells in areas that need to be
repaired,” says Wang. “This new type of drug will
correct abnormal brain functions in a targeted way, so patients
don’t experience the side effects found in existing
medications that affect the whole brain.”
One of only three investigations funded in NeuroScience Canada’s
new Brain Repair Program, the project brings together five
researchers from across Canada, including three investigators
from the BRC at UBC Hospital.
Healthy brain functioning relies on a balance between the
chemical messengers that stimulate brain cell activity (excitatory
neurotransmitters) and those that diminish activity (inhibitory
When balance is disrupted, the flow of information among
brain cells in certain areas becomes confused. The result
is impairments in perception, thought and behaviour seen in
patients with brain disorders ranging from autism to major
psychoses including schizophrenia and depression.
Using sophisticated equipment to view, study and manipulate
brain messaging at the cellular level, the team will test
their design of a type of drug that can fine-tune communication
between brain cells and bring excitatory and inhibitory activity
into a healthy balance.
Existing anti-psychotic drugs adjust communication on cell
surfaces throughout the brain. Balance is restored in affected
areas, however, the drugs may cause imbalance in normal, unaffected
areas, leading to negative side effects. Side effects can
range from sluggishness, insomnia and anxiety to severe psychoses,
and limit prolonged use of these medications.
The new generation of “smart” drugs will target
only the cells where communication balance is impaired, leaving
healthy areas of the brain unaffected.
Wang estimates the new type of drug could be available to
patients within five to 10 years.
Brain and nervous system disorders affect one in five Canadians
and are among the leading causes of death in this country
and are the leading cause of disability. Health Canada has
estimated the economic burden of these disorders at $22.7
billion and costs are expected to rise significantly as the
Other team members are: (in alphabetical order) Assistant
Prof. Alaa El-Husseini, UBC Dept. of Psychiatry and BRC; Associate
Prof. Stephen Ferguson, University of Western Ontario; Assistant
Prof. Ridha Joober, McGill University; Professor Anthony Phillips,
UBC Dept. of Psychiatry and BRC.
Note to editors: Moving and still colour
images of brain cell-to-brain cell communication are available.
The Brain Research Centre, located at UBC Hospital, comprises
more than 160 investigators with multidisciplinary expertise
in neuroscience research ranging from the test tube, to the
bedside, to industrial spin-offs.
NeuroScience Canada’s Brain Repair Program is an $8-million
program that has received major support from the Canadian
Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to support Canada’s
world-class neuroscience researchers. Further information
about the NeuroScience Canada awards may be found at www.neurosciencecanada.ca.
NeuroScience Canada was founded in1988 and uses private,
corporate and government funding to support research on mechanisms
that protect and repair the brain and nervous system.
CIHR is the Government of Canada’s agency for health
VCHRI is a joint venture between UBC and Vancouver Coastal
Health that promotes development of new researchers and research