british brain research fund/News /BBRF – Where brains and beauty meet


BBRF – Where brains and beauty meet

lushWe are delighted to announce that BBRF Research Fellow, Dr Elizabeth Woehrling, has been awarded the prestigious LUSH Cosmetics International Young Researcher Prize for her work developing new technologies in place of animal testing for neurotoxins. Animal free testing in the development of medical and cosmetic products is of great importance to many people. The Lush Prize is a major new initiative which aims to bring forward the day when all product safety testing takes place without the use of animals.

The animal-free methods developed by Dr Woehrling and the world class team at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences are focussed on investigating the impact of chemicals on the brain. The utility and flexibility of these methods makes them ideally suited to testing the neurotoxicity of products in the medical and cosmetic industries.

In a recently awarded BBRF research grant Dr Woehrling and the team are using the prize-winning animal-free technologies in groundbreaking work to investigate the toxicity of commonly used ‘anticholinergic’ medicines, which have been linked with brain cell damage and the risk of developing dementia.

Millions of people of all ages, from the elderly to very young children, regularly take medicines which have ‘anticholinergic’ pharmacological effects. These medicines might be prescribed by a doctor or bought as over the counter remedies for conditions including hay-fever, asthma, allergies, overactive bladder, depression, heart problems and pain relief. Anticholinergic medicines (ACM) are well known to cause relatively minor side-effects e.g., a dry mouth, but recent reports (1, 2) have linked them with a decline in brain function and increased risk of death in older people, indicating that the full impact of these drugs on health is not fully understood.

Anticholinergic medicines are thought to exert their effects on the brain by blocking the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which many brain cells use to communicate with each other. Decreased acetylcholine levels are a feature of dementia. In recent decades the numbers of cases of dementia and other degenerative brain conditions have risen without explanation, mirroring the increased availability and use of these drugs. It is important to understand the mechanisms as to how these medicines might be affecting acetylcholine activity in the brain so the true risks to the millions of people taking ACM can be estimated and suitable recommendations made in the longer term to prescribers and users of the drugs.

In the new BBRF funded research Dr Woehrling and the team will use the best available human laboratory model of basic brain function – NTERA cells, which differentiate to form brain cells, both neurones and astrocytes, plus a recently developed cellular model of the human Blood Brain Barrier to:

  • identify the biological and pharmacological mechanisms by which anticholinergic medicines exert their effects on brain cells
  • identify which medicines, in which combinations and at what doses cause the worst effects
  • determine if the effects of these medicines are transient or permanent, and cumulative
  • determine the ability of the drugs to permeate the Blood Brain Barrier (and if this depends on a person’s age or health).


This research is vitally important given the widespread use of ACM and our current lack of knowledge about what is causing the rise in dementia and other fatal brain conditions. The results of Dr Woehrling’s work should help us to determine which medicines, in which combinations and at what doses are most damaging and whether the effects on brain cells are permanent or reversible. This will allow us to assess the real risks posed by these medicines and to develop treatment strategies to minimise harm. Or, if the research reveals that the reported link between ACM and brain decline has no biological basis to it then this will also be of great value reducing recent concerns about ACM which will be of relief to the many millions of people who take them.

Dr Angela Wilson, BBRF’s Director and Founder said “Dementia is going to be this century’s biggest threat to public health with immense personal and financial cost to individuals, their families and the economy. Dr Woehrling’s exciting research demonstrates how we can use new technologies to progress medical science in areas of paramount importance to world health without the need for animal testing. It is fantastic news that Dr Woehrling’s pioneering work has been recognised with the LUSH Cosmetics Young Researcher Prize and gives deserved international recognition and prominence to the team at Aston University for their enlightened approach to medical science. LUSH Cosmetics work in promoting and advancing animal free testing is to be applauded.”

If you would like to help us fund more vital research like this please Get Involved.


1. ‘Anticholinergic medication use and cognitive impairment in the older population: The Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (CFAS)’ by C Fox (UEA), K Richardson (University of Cambridge), I Maidment (Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust), G Savva (University of Cambridge), F Matthews (MRC Biostatistics Unit), D Smithard (Kent Community Health NHS Trust), S Coulton (University of Kent), C Katona (University College London), M Boustani (Indiana University), and C Brayne (University of Cambridge) was published online by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on June 24 2011..
2. Commonly used medicines linked to brain decline and death. British Brain Research Fund News. 31st August 2011.  

Written By: admin