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05 April 2023

Dr David Andersson awarded the Sir Jules Thorn Award for Biomedical Research

The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust has granted £1,699,572 to fund the project 'Novel Diagnostic and Therapeutic Insights for Fibromyalgia'.


Dr David Andersson is awarded the prestigious award to study Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS), one of the most common and challenging chronic pain conditions. FMS affects more than 2% of the population, predominantly women, and is characterised by widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disorders and emotional distress. Despite fibromyalgia being associated with poor quality of life, the cause of it has remained unexplained. There are currently no simple diagnostic tests or pain-relieving analgesics available to most patients.

In 2021, Dr Andersson and Professor Stuart Bevan from the Wolfson CARD, together with collaborators from the University of Liverpool and The Karolinska Institute, published a study that shows that many symptoms of fibromyalgia are caused by autoantibodies, antibodies that bind to the body’s own proteins and tissues. These autoantibodies act throughout the body, outside the central nervous system, strongly suggesting that fibromyalgia is a disease of the immune system, rather than the currently-held view that it originates in the brain. 

In their studies, they observed that injecting antibodies taken from fibromyalgia patients into mice mimicked a transfer of symptoms. Mice injected with antibodies from healthy controls did not develop such symptoms. They also saw that these mice recovered once the antibodies had been cleared from their systems. These findings also suggest that autoantibody reduction may be the key to treating some individuals living with fibromyalgia.

The Sir Jules Thorn Award will support Dr Andersson’s work to expand these findings and to translate the research into an improved quality of life for patients. These insights will fundamentally change future research and clinical management of FMS. His main aim is to identify and study the molecules that the patients’ autoantibodies bind to, and how this leads to pain and sensitivity. This line of work will support the development of simple diagnostic tests and experimentally evaluate possible therapies.

Furthermore, he will investigate the different cells and molecules underlying various FMS symptoms. This includes investigating the sensory neurons that relay information on pain, touch and temperature. He will also investigate whether autoantibodies are responsible for auditory and olfactory abnormalities as well as the aberrant pain processing in the brain.

The project will be conducted in close collaboration with co-investigators from The University of Liverpool - Dr Andreas Goebel, Dr Uazman Alam and Dr Rosalind Jenkins - and Dr Diana Cash from IoPPN.

I am overjoyed to have been awarded the Sir Jules Thorn Trust award. This prestigious grant will accelerate our efforts to understand fibromyalgia and to identify diagnostic tests and improved treatments.

Dr David Andersson, Reader at Wolfson CARD, IoPPN

The Sir Jules Thorn Award for Biomedical Research was launched in 2001 to support world-leading translational research projects. The award supports a 5-year programme of translational biomedical research selected through a competition among applicants sponsored by the UK’s leading medical schools and NHS organisations. A single award is given annually to research that is at the leading edge of international science.

For more information, please contact Annora Thoeng (School of Neuroscience Senior Communications and Engagement Officer)

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David Andersson

Professor of Neuroscience