Addiction, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease tackled by new Chair at Imperial College

Addiction, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease tackled by new Chair at Imperial College

Professor David Nutt appointed Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology<em> - News Release </em>

Imperial College London News Release

For immediate release
Wednesday 7 January 2009

A leading researcher who looks at how the brain behaves in people with health problems such as addiction, anxiety and Alzheimer’s disease has been announced today as the new Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London.

Professor David Nutt will be using cutting-edge scanning techniques to develop new treatments for a range of conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

An expert in how the circuits in the brain work together, Professor Nutt has made key discoveries about the role of neurotransmitters in anxiety, depression, addiction and sleep that have improved the treatment of patients with these disorders.

The Edmond J Safra Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology is a new position at Imperial, established with a donation from the Edmond J Safra Philanthropic Foundation and Mrs Lily Safra.

In addition to his new chair, Professor Nutt will also lead a new Department of Neuropsychopharmacology and Molecular Imaging at the College, which will be launched early in 2009. The Department is being funded jointly by Imperial College London and the Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS Foundation Trust.

In his research, Professor Nutt hopes to develop existing Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning techniques to explore the different receptors in the brain involved in conditions such as addiction and anxiety.

Professor Nutt, from the Division of Neuroscience and Mental Health at Imperial College London said: “I want to explore further what happens in the brain in conditions like anxiety and depression. In the long term, I would like to properly understand the brain circuits that underlie these conditions with a view to developing new treatments. I would like to see new treatments in pilot studies within the next five years.”

“Another condition I want to explore is Alzheimer’s disease and one of the first things I’ll be working on at Imperial is developing new PET tracers to study this condition. For a long time, scientists have been looking at amyloid proteins that form plaques in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. However, the condition is still poorly understood and I would like to look into different factors, including the role that inflammation might play in the brain,” added Professor Nutt.

Professor David Nutt will be working on new imaging techniques for Alzheimer's disease

Researchers use PET scanning to build up a picture of the brain, to see what is happening in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression. PET scanners can reveal which parts of the brain are working, show if there are too few or too many receptors in the brain and can be used to measure the amount of proteins. For example, in 2006, researchers at Imperial devised a new technique that enabled them to see the amyloid proteins that build up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They made amyloid proteins visible in a PET scan by attaching a radioactive dye to a molecule that binds to the amyloid protein. This meant they could identify people who were likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research by Professor Nutt has shown that there are faults in the main system in the brain that inhibits signals in patients with severe anxiety and in alcoholics. He also discovered that alcoholic patients had a similar increase in endorphin receptors in the brain to those addicted to heroin, suggesting that this may be a common factor to different forms of addiction. Professor Nutt created the first PET tracers to see the brain receptors involved in anxiety and showed that antidepressants can be used to treat panic and social anxiety disorder.

Professor Lefkos Middleton, head of the Division of Neuroscience and Mental Health at Imperial College London, said: “addiction and substance abuse are increasing public health problems in the UK and we have yet to find effective ways of treating them. We are excited to welcome Professor Nutt to Imperial and the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, where we are confident he will use his expert knowledge and experience to develop new treatments for health problems such as these, which will make a real difference to patients’ lives.”

Lily Safra, Chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation said: "We are absolutely delighted that David Nutt, a visionary scholar, will be the first occupant of the Edmond J. Safra Chair. His research provides hope to so many people suffering from diseases that we have barely begun to understand, and we wish him and his team much success."

Professor Nutt joins Imperial from the University of Bristol, where he was Professor of Psychopharmacology and Director of the Psychopharmacology Unit. He has recently been appointed Chair of the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He is currently working with the MRC on national strategies for addiction research and PET imaging as a member of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Board.


For further information please contact:

Lucy Goodchild
Press Officer
Imperial College London
Telephone: +44 (0)207 594 6702 or ext. 46702
Out of hours duty Press Officer: +44 (0)7803 886 248

Notes to editors:

1. Biography

Professor David Nutt was awarded his degree in Medicine from the University of Cambridge in 1972, then completed his clinical training at Guy's Hospital, London in 1975.

He was Clinical Scientist in the MRC Unit of Clinical Pharmacology, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford between 1978 and 1982. From 1983 to 1985, Professor Nutt was a Lecturer in Psychiatry at the University of Oxford.

In 1986 a transatlantic move took Professor Nutt to Maryland, USA where he was Fogarty Visiting Scientist NIH and Chief of the Section of Clinical Science at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda.

Professor Nutt joined the University of Bristol in 1988 as Director of the Psychopharmacology Unit, a position he held alongside other key roles until he joined Imperial in December 2008.

Professor Nutt has held government advisory posts for the Ministry of Defence, Department of Health and the Home Office. He also co-authored the influential 2005 Foresight Report on the Future of Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs.

Professor Nutt has received several honours including FRCPsych, FRCP, FMedSci; Visiting Professorships in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands; Presidency of the British Association of Psychopharmacology and membership of the European Brain Council. He is currently President of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

2. About the Edmond J. Safra Foundation

Assisting hundreds of organizations in over fifty countries around the world, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation is an international leader in the support of medical research and health care, education, religion, humanitarianism, and culture. Edmond J. Safra was one of the leading bankers of the 20th century, as well a dedicated philanthropist who supported countless humanitarian, religious, educational, and cultural causes.

3. About Imperial College London

Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 12,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.

Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health in the UK and globally, tackle climate change and develop clean and sustainable sources of energy.

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