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Novel therapeutic strategies to repair brain abnormalities in psychiatric disorders

Principal Investigator:
  • Yu Tian Wang, University of British Columbia
Team Members:
  • Stephen S.G. Ferguson, University of Western Ontario
  • Alaa El-Husseini, University of British Columbia
  • Ridha Joober, McGill University
  • Anthony G. Phillips, University of British Columbia

Project Overview

Communication between brain cells is essential for normal brain function. Healthy brain cells are controlled through chemical messengers that stimulate or inhibit brain activity. Current theories indicate that psychiatric disorders such as addiction, schizophrenia, autism and mental retardation evolve from an imbalance of these chemical messengers leading to a disruption in the way brain cells are able to communicate with each other.

Drugs currently available for the treatment of psychiatric disorders often target multiple receptors throughout the brain. Although these compounds have therapeutic efficacy in subgroups of patients, negative side effects often develop which limit their use. Accordingly, new Pharmacotherapies, designed to target more specific brain processes implicated in various aspects of psychiatric illness, are urgently needed.

Dr. Wang and his team investigated a novel method for treating these disorders, whereby small peptides can target specific sub-cellular processes that disrupt the balance of chemical messengers and hence the normal communication between brain cells. Dysfunction of the normal communication between brain cells has been linked to psychiatric diseases and this new class of drugs is designed to restore normal function in a highly specific manner that will minimize negative side effects. The team’s initial focus was on developing a therapy for drug addiction, however the principles underlying the action of these new drugs could lead to the development of similar treatments for other neurological and neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, mental retardation and schizophrenia.