Newcastle University drug test research needs volunteers

DOCTORS face a race against time to find the final volunteers needed to prove a new treatment for depression works.

Newcastle University
Newcastle University

DOCTORS face a race against time to find the final volunteers needed to prove a new treatment for depression works.

Researchers at Newcastle University are leading a national study into whether reducing stress could boost the effect of antidepressant drugs, but need more patients to join their clinical trial.

It was revealed last week that the North East is the country’s antidepressant capital with seven of the region’s health trusts in the top 10 for most often prescribing the drugs.

Clinical psychologist Dr Hamish McAllister-Williams, a principal researcher in Professor Nicol Ferrier’s team, said with just weeks to go until the volunteer recruitment deadline, they need to find the final few who may help prove their theory right.

“One of the things we’ve always known is that patients with depression, on average, have an increased level of the stress hormone Cortisol and, more importantly, it may be that high levels of Cortisol make it harder for antidepressants to work,” he said.

“The study we’re currently doing is looking at patients with depressive illnesses, who are taking antidepressants, but who have previously not responded to at least two different types of treatment, and adding in a medication that reduces the levels of Cortisol to see if it helps.”

The Medical Research Council-funded study has already been running for over a year, with more than 100 patients recruited from Tyneside, Teesside, Manchester and Leeds.

They receive either the drug metyrapone or a placebo, although as a “double blind” test even the researchers will not know who has been given what until the work is finished next year. But before the trial can be completed, another 10 to 15 volunteers are still needed, with less than 11 weeks to find them.

“We’ve found the study tends to resonate with patients because they can easily see the relationship between stress and depression,” said Dr McAllister-Williams. “It’s intuitive, so people have put themselves forward to help.

“But we still need more people before the end of October and if we don’t get them it makes it much harder to accurately see what effect this treatment may have.

“We really don’t want to run out of time without enough patients as that could leave us in a state of limbo and after all this work, we still might not know if this could help people.”

To learn more, including how to take part, visit


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