CSAR prize-winning Wolfson medic returns to dementia research

Dr Dhruv Pancal

Wolfson PhD student Dr Dhruv Panchal (M.2016) has been working in local hospitals from A&E to the COVID wards, but he is looking forward to finishing his research on what he calls “a silent pandemic”.

Dr Dhruv Pancal

By studying the brains of hibernating animals, the neurologist (he became an MD before starting his PhD) has been studying innovative ways of treating dementia by trying to reconnect neurons that fall apart due to the disease.

Most studies into dementia focus on removing the sticky proteins in the brain thought to cause the gradual deterioration of memory and cognitive function characteristic of the disease, but Dhruv is looking at whether lost brain connections themselves could be re-established. His supervisor, Professor Giovanna Mallucci, discovered how hibernating animals cool to protect their brains. In order to conserve energy, their neural connections disassemble during hibernation and then reassemble when they awaken. She and her research team discovered a ‘cold shock’ protein, RBM3, that aids in the process of reforming these broken neural connections.

Dhruv’s research continues this work. He says, “It turns out that if you put mice with dementia in a fridge, they get better.” It is also possible to activate the protein by injecting a virus. Both these methods present ethical and practical issues in humans, so “the ideal goal would be to find a drug that activates this repair process but without the risks of cooling. I think I’ve done that; I’ve found a ‘thermostat’ on the nerve cell that can be tricked by a drug into thinking it is cold, and start off the reparative process.” The drug was tested in mice, restoring their brain connections and lengthening their lifespan. “It was a nice result,” says Dhruv.

“50 million people worldwide suffer with dementia right now and this number is estimated to triple in the next 30 years,” explains Dhruv. “I thought I’d have a go at helping out.” An award from the Cambridge Society for the Application of Research (CSAR) a body that funds cutting edge research with real life uses, has recognised the important nature of his work.

Dhruv is in the Wellcome Trust PhD programme for Clinicians. He was notified of the award by the Senior Tutor, Dr Susan Larsen, while he was waiting for some experiments to run. After completing a simple application form, Dhruv was shortlisted and attended an interview before winning the award, which carries a £1000 prize. He encourages other students to apply; “It was a really easy application process, and it is open to all PhD students. There’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain.”

Dhruv is now keen to get back into his lab to complete his last few experiments. Once his PhD is finished, he hopes to continue this line of research, saying “the times you get a lead like this are so rare, it would be criminal to waste it.”

The CSAR are currently accepting applications for the 2021 awards.

Dr Dhruv Panchal at the Boat Club dinner
Dhruv is a keen rower, pictured here at the Boat Club dinner

What's on

mother and daughter with gas masks

Humanities Society - "Objects, Bodies, and Emotions: How the Gas Mask Can Help Us Tell the History of Total War"

11/05/2021 at 18.00

The Humanities Society organises regular talks during term time. During Easter term 2021, all talks take place as zoom webinars, make sure to register.

Adeel Khan

Green Society - How to use the power of social media for good?

13/05/2021 at 18.00

The Green Society organises regular talks during term time. During Easter term 2021, all talks take place as zoom webinars, make sure to register.

Group of people sitting round a table, some of the using computers and wearing headsets

Peer Review Workshop

13/05/2021 at 19.00

Do you have an idea that you would like feedback on? Perhaps you would like to see if an argument you are writing is clear or makes sense? Maybe you would like to see if the data you are presenting in your paper flows well with your surrounding text?

group of women

Beyond Borders: Women's Movements Around the World

14/05/2021 at 16.00

The Interdisciplinary Research Hub on Gender is hosting a collaborative event featuring academics and activists to give voice to feminist movements outside the Euro-American world.

Jazmin Scarlett

Science Society - The keys to the past: a mixed-methods approach to reconstructing the 1812 eruption of La Soufrière St. Vincent

14/05/2021 at 18.00

The Science Society organises regular talks during term time. Throughout this term, all talks take place as zoom meetings, make sure to register.