Basic Science: Human samples

Gloved hand holding petri dish. Laboratory bench is in the background.

Human samples that tell a story

Almost two decades ago, our team were among the first in the world to reveal signs of inflammation in patients with depression and bipolar disorder, drawing on data developed by others showing oxidative stress. In particular, a finding of low levels of glutathione, the brain’s major antioxidant, in major psychiatric disorders prompted us to trial N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) – a precursor of glutathione – as a possible treatment. We found that NAC improved negative symptoms of schizophrenia, with similar effects in bipolar disorder and unipolar depression – independently replicated by others.

The NAC story tells us something important: that we can expand into new, creative approaches that let us think differently about where and how we imagine and search for different kinds of treatments or preventatives. This is the nature of our biomarkers work. We find systems and indicators in the body that behave differently when people have psychiatric disorders, and then target those places with available, well tolerated medicines. And we can team that with another part of the discovery story: repurposing existing drugs.

This aspect of our team’s work is an iterative process. We also collect biomarker data in our clinical trials, moving on to explore the effects of therapeutics on these markers. CREDIT is using biomarker data to refine our choices of agents, to detect potential theragnostic or prognostic markers, and to detect signals that may predict use of other therapies.