Mental Health Watch: Blood Cells Hold Potential Key to Effective Neuropsychiatric Treatment

Pharmacy Times, December 2019, Volume 85, Issue 12

The results of a recent study show that live blood cells from patients with mental health disorders could be used to drastically accelerate the search for new drugs to treat mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.

The results of a new study, published in Science Advances, show that live blood cells from patients with mental health disorders could be used to drastically accelerate the search for new drugs to treat mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.

Although the medical understanding of the biology behind mental health disorders has generally increased, no new neuropsychiatric drugs with improved treatment effects have been developed in the past few decades, because doctors cannot take brain tissue samples from patients as they would for a biopsy of a cancer tumor elsewhere in the body.

Human blood cells contain many receptors and proteins involved in signaling that are also found in the central nervous system (CNS) and have been linked to neuropsychiatric disorders. Results of previous research have shown a strong connection between cells in the blood and the way the CNS operates, making blood cells an ideal environment in which to test potential new drugs.

Using a high-content single-cell screening process, the investigators analyzed cells from 42 patients with schizophrenia and screened thousands of potential compounds for new drugs, focusing on new psychiatric uses for drugs routinely prescribed for other conditions, such as high blood pressure. They also tested the activity of new drugs on human nerve cells to ensure the activity was shared between blood and brain cells.

This drug “repurposing” strategy can reduce the cost and time to bring a new drug to the clinic 10-fold, according to the study’s authors. Furthermore, testing psychiatric treatments on patient blood cells may allow investigators to predict how effective treatments will be for individual patients.

REFERENCE

Lago S, Tomasik J, van Rees G, et al. Drug discovery for psychiatric disorders using high-content single-cell screening of signaling network responses ex vivo. Sci Adv. 2019;5(5):eaau9093. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aau9093.