The latest list of publications from the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre with a brief summary. 

If you are publishing research which has had funding and / or support from the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, please complete this form

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Publication: Clinical Kidney Journal

Toby J L Humphrey, Glen James, Eric T Wittbrodt, Donna Zarzuela, Thomas F Hiemstra

30 January 2021


In an observational study analysing data from over 430,000 patients, those who had their RAASi – blood pressure medications – interrupted or stopped, were found to have worse outcomes than those who continued with their treatment.

The patients who had medication interruptions or discontinuated were more likely to be hospitalised, to have a cardiac arrest or develop kidney damage than those who continued on their RAASi medications throughout the study.

This study highlights that the potential risks for and against RAASi treatment interruption or discontinuation be very carefully considered in patients for whom guideline-recommended RAAS inhibitor therapy is indicated.

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Publication: bioRxiv Preprint

Thomas L. Williams, Maria T. Colzani, Robyn G.C. Macrae, Emma L. Robinson, Stuart Bloor, Edward J. D. Greenwood, Jun Ru Zhan, Gregory Strachan, Rhoda E. Kuc, VDuuamene Nyimanu, View Janet J. Maguire, Paul J. Lehner, Sanjay Sinha, Anthony P. Davenport

21 January 2021


Patients with heart disease are more susceptible to severe infection with SARS CoV-2, and the virus is thought to damage cardiovascular tissue. Researchers developed a test to screen medicines that are currently in use for other conditions to see if they would block the entry of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and protect the heart and surrounding tissues.

Researchers found beating heart cells have the same special proteins SARS-CoV-2 virus uses to enter the patient’s tissues and used these cells to model a new system. Safely done in the laboratory, researchers looked at a virus and concentrated on the spike protein so it can infect the cells, but once inside the virus was unable to make copies of itself.

The researchers were then able to test compounds and licenced medicines to block the virus entering the heart cells in order to find a suitable treatment. This new screening gives the opportunity to test a wide range of medicines as well as new anti-viral drugs that are currently being developed.

Doing this and blocking entry of the virus can protect the heart and other tissues during infection. It will also help finding the best medicine to help stop patients getting seriously ill from SARS CoV-2.

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Dipender Gill, Alan C. Cameron, Stephen Burgess, Xue Li, Daniel J. Doherty, Ville Karhunen, Azmil H. Abdul-Rahim, Martin Taylor-Rowan, Verena Zuber, Philip S. Tsao, Derek Klarin, Evangelos Evangelou, Paul Elliott, Scott M. Damrauer, Terence J. Quinn, Abbas Dehghan, Evropi Theodoratou, Jesse Dawson, Ioanna Tzoulaki

28 December 2020


Serum urate has been implicated in hypertension and cardiovascular disease, but it is not known whether it is exerting a causal effect. To investigate this, researchers performed Mendelian randomization analysis using data from UK Biobank, Million Veterans Program and genome-wide association study consortia, and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

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Publication: Medrxiv

Laura BergamaschiFederica MesciaLorinda TurnerAimee HansonPrasanti KotagiriBenjamin J. DunmoreHelene RuffieuxAloka De SaOisin HuhnMark R. WillsStephen BakerRainer DoffingerGordon DouganAnne ElmerIan G Goodfellow, Ravindra K. GuptaMyra HosmilloKelvin HunterNathalie KingstonPaul J. LehnerNicholas J. MathesonJeremy K. NicholsonAnna M. PetrunkinaSylvia RichardsonCaroline Saunders, James E.D. ThaventhiranErik J. M. ToonenMichael P. WeekesMark ToshnerChristoph HessJohn R. BradleyPaul A. LyonsKenneth G.C. Smith

15 January 2021


It may be possible to predict which patients will go on to develop severe or long-term COVID symptoms (sometimes known as ‘long COVID’).

Cambridge researchers looked at blood samples taken regularly over three months from more than 200 people, ranging from COVID-19 patients who were severely ill and needed ventilation to asymptomatic NHS staff who had tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms.

The immune systems in patients who were the sickest showed early evidence of an abnormal inflammatory response, leading to a flood of immune cells which damaged healthy cells as well as the virus. Finding inflammation early in the blood samples and at the point of diagnosis could help doctors to identify and predict patients who will develop severe COVID-19.

The results have been released as a pre-print, read the full news story.

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Publication: Critical Care

Mailis Maes, Ellen Higginson, Joana Pereira-Dias, Martin D. Curran, Surendra Parmar, Fahad Khokhar, Delphine Cuchet-Lourenço, Janine Lux, Sapna Sharma-Hajela, Benjamin Ravenhill, Islam Hamed, Laura Heales, Razeen Mahroof, Amelia Solderholm, Sally Forrest, Sushmita Sridhar, Nicholas M. Brown, Stephen Baker, Vilas Navapurkar, Gordon Dougan, Josefin Bartholdson Scott and  Andrew Conway Morris

11 January 2021

A DNA test to identify secondary pneumonia in patients with severe COVID-19 has been created by Cambridge researchers. Bacteria samples need to be collected from patients and grown in a lab to identify them – this could take days. Now researchers have created a test which will detect the DNA of the bacteria within hours. Clinicians will then be able to start the right course of treatment a lot sooner. This new test is being rolled out at Cambridge University Hospitals.
Read the full news story.
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Publication: PLOS Medicine

Julieta Galante, Claire Friedrich, Anna F Dawson, Marta Modrego-Alarcón, Pia Gebbing, Irene Delgado-Suárez, Radhika Gupta, Lydia Dean, Tim Dalgleish, Ian R White, Peter B Jones 

11 January 2021


Many randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have been conducted around the world to assess whether in-person mindfulness training can improve mental health and wellbeing, but the results are often varied.

Researchers led a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the published data from the RCTs. This approach allows them to bring together existing – and often contradictory or under-powered – studies to provide more robust conclusions.

The team identified 136 RCTs on mindfulness training for mental health promotion in community settings. These trials included 11,605 participants aged 18 to 73 years from 29 countries, more than three-quarters (77%) of whom were women.

The researchers found that in most community settings, compared with doing nothing, mindfulness reduces anxiety, depression and stress, and increases wellbeing. However, the data suggested that in more than one in 20 trials settings, mindfulness-based programmes may not improve anxiety and depression. Read the full press release

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Publication: BMJ Open

Saman Khalatbari-Soltani, Pedro Marques-Vidal, Fumiaki Imamura, G. Forouhi

22 December 2020


In an international study, with researchers from Cambridge and Switzerland, researchers reviewed a Mediterranean-style diet to see if it may lower the risk of developing fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver, defined as fat accumulation of more than 5% of liver volume, is common especially among obese and diabetic individuals. Fatty liver is the first stage for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a major cause of liver disease worldwide, and may also predispose to higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The Mediterranean diet is thought to be beneficial but research was limited to people with established fatty liver disease. Researchers

In 2288 study participants without NAFLD at baseline, when we assessed their dietary habits and scaled their levels of adherence to the well-established Mediterranean diet. After an average of 5.3-years of follow-up in the study, we tested for the presence of fatty liver disease based on two indices called “fatty liver index” and “NAFLD score”.

Results showed that those who adhered more to the Mediterranean diet had lower risk of developing new-onset fatty liver disease based on fatty liver index.

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Publication: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

Kerry S. Jones, Damon A. Parkington, Lorna J. Cox, Albert Koulman

22 December 2020


Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is an essential nutrient required for energy metabolism and the nervous system.  Thiamine deficiency can cause infantile beriberi (a potential life-threatening condition that affects multiple parts of the body.) Populations particularly at risk of thiamine deficiency are breastfed infants of thiamine-deficient mothers in low-income countries, especially those where rice, which contains little thiamine, is the staple food. However, deficiency is associated with a range of non-specific clinical symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose. Evidence also exists to suggest that mild thiamine deficiency may have long-term effects on brain development and gross motor skills.

Biomarkers are compounds we can measure in blood that tell us about a person’s physiology and health. Biomarkers of thiamine status are essential to identify deficiency and improve understanding of the global prevalence of thiamine deficiency and of the links between thiamine and later health outcomes.

An important biomarker of thiamine status is the “erythrocyte transketolase activity coefficient” (ETKAC). ETKAC is a measure of the availability of thiamine available for use in in red blood cells (erythrocytes).

Researchers provided a step-by-step protocol to perform the ETKAC assay. It will facilitate harmonisation of the ETKAC assay. It provides a foundation for the establishment of the assay in new laboratories and supports the investigation of outstanding questions in thiamine biology contributing to the ultimate aim of developing strategies to control thiamine deficiency.

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Publication: New England Journal of Medicine

Peter J. Hutchinson, Ellie Edlmann, Diederik Bulters, Ardalan Zolnourian, Patrick Holton, Nigel Suttner,  Kevin Agyemang, Simon Thomson, Ian A. Anderson, Yahia Z. Al-Tamimi, Duncan Henderson, Peter C. Whitfield, Monica Gherle, Paul M. Brennan, Annabel Allison,  Eric P. Thelin, Silvia Tarantino, Beatrice Pantaleo, Karen Caldwell, Carol Davis-Wilkie, Harry Mee, Elizabeth A. Warburton, Garry Barton, Aswin Chari, Hani J. Marcus, Andrew T. King, Antonio Belli, Phyo K. Myint, Ian Wilkinson, Thomas Santarius, Carole Turner,  Simon Bond, Angelos G. Kolias,

16 December 2020


Chronic subdural haematoma -the build-up of ‘old’ blood in the space between the brain and the skull, usually as a result of minor head injury – is one of the most common neurological disorders and mainly affects older people.

A commonly used steroid, dexamethasone, has been used alongside surgery or instead of it since the 1970s. However, consensus has been lacking regarding the use of dexamethasone, especially since no high-quality studies confirming its effectiveness had been conducted until now.

In a randomised trial, patients received a two-week tapering course of dexamethasone and were compared with 373 patients randomised to an identical matching placebo. Results showed patients who received dexamethasone had a lower chance of favourable recovery at six months compared to patients who received placebo. Read the full press release. 

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Publication: JAMA

Eric L. Harshfield, Lisa Pennells, Joseph, Schwartz, Peter Willeit, Stephen Kaptoge, Steven Bell, Jonathan A. Shaffer, Thomas Bolton, Sarah Spackman, Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Frank Kee, Philippe Amouyel, Steven J. Shea, Lewis H. Kuller,  Jussi Kauhanen,  E. M. van Zutphen, Dan G. Blazer, Harlan Krumholz, Paul J. Nietert, Daan Kromhout, MD19; Gail Laughlin, Lisa Berkman, Robert B. Wallace, Leon A. Simons, Elaine M. Dennison, Elizabeth L. M. Barr,  Haakon E. Meyer, Angela M. Wood, John Danesh, Emanuele Di Angelantonio, Karina W. Davidson

15 December 2020


People who experience symptoms of depression are more likely to go on to develop heart disease or suffer a stroke than those who report good mental health.

Researchers analysed the health records of over half a million people, with no prior history of heart and circulatory disease, who were enrolled to two different studies.

Upon joining the studies, participants were given a score based on questionnaires assessing their mood and any symptoms of depression that they had experienced over the previous one to two weeks.

Over 10, researchers have found that those in the highest scoring group, and with most severe symptoms of depression, were more likely to have since developed heart disease or to have had a stroke, compared to people with the lowest scores.

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Publication: Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association

Maura Malpetti, P. Simon Jones, Kamen A. Tsvetanov, Timothy Rittman, John C. van Swieten, Barbara Borroni, Raquel Sanchez‐Valle, Fermin Moreno, Robert Laforce, Caroline Graff, Matthis Synofzik, Daniela Galimberti, Mario Masellis, Maria Carmela Tartaglia, Elizabeth Finger, Rik Vandenberghe, Alexandre de Mendonça, Fabrizio Tagliavini Isabel Santana, Simon Ducharme, Chris R. Butler, Alexander Gerhard, Johannes Levin, Adrian Danek, Markus Otto,Giovanni B. Frisoni, Roberta Ghidoni, Sandro Sorbi,Carolin Heller,Emily G. Todd, Martina Bocchetta, David M. Cash,Rhian S. Convery, Georgia Peakman, Katrina M. Moore, Jonathan D. Rohrer, Rogier A. Kievit, James B. Rowe

15 December 2020


Apathy – a lack of interest or motivation – could predict the onset of some forms of dementia many years before symptoms start, offering a ‘window of opportunity’ to treat the disease at an early stage. Apathy changes decades before dementia onset and is driven by early brain shrinkage in individuals at risk of dementia. Early signs of apathy before dementia predict a faster decline in cognitive performance. Apathy can point to early brain changes even years before dementia symptoms begin, providing a window of opportunity to intervene and slow disease progression. Read the full news story.

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Publication: Current Biology

Amilla L. Nord, Edwin S. Dalmaijer, Thomas Armstrong, Kate Baker, Tim Dalgleish

24 November 2020


Disgust is a natural response to unpleasant sights, but for some people, disgust can become pathological, affecting their mental health and quality of life.

Researchers have shown that domperidone, a commonly-prescribed anti-nausea medicine, can help significantly reduce how much volunteers look away from disgusting images. Read the full news story.

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