Courtney Worrell, psychiatric research specialist involved in EU-PEARL WP 4

Courtney is a Trial Manager in the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology (SPI) Lab at the IOPPN, Kings College London.

  • What drew you to psychiatric research?

I grew up in a time where the importance of mental health was on the raise. Besides, I had a genuine desire to help people. And what better way to do so than by being involved in research to transform our understanding of mental health and develop novel treatments to inform future clinical care? So, I took a Master’s Degree in Psychiatric Research and completed an elective post-graduate qualification in Clinical Trials.

  • How did you get involved in EU-PEARL?

After a few years of experience as a researcher, my specific interests revolved around treatment of resistant depression, childhood trauma and psychosis, and more broadly, the brain and body interaction across all of this. When Professor Pariante, who is head of the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology (SPI) Lab at King’s College London, offered me the opportunity to join EU-PEARL, I immediately agreed.

  • What is your role in the project?

At KCL, we co-lead work package 4, Integrated Research Platform for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). In short, MDD, more simply known as depression, is an incredibly complex clinical condition characterised most commonly by changes in mood, interest and pleasure. An incredibly high number of people are affected. Our main task is to develop an approach for a collaborative, multi-drug Integrated Research Platform (IRP) in treatment resistant depression (TRD) and partially responsive depression (PRD).

  • What are the main challenges facing MDD treatment research?

Approximately one third of patients do not find a response to first line antidepressant treatment. Instead, many show partial or no response at all to these treatments. While this is a clear issue in itself, and there is an obvious need to find effective treatments for these groups, research is further complicated by uncertainty when it comes to the exact definitions of TRD and PRD and how they would be characterised clinically. In our task addressing the scientific challenges for TRD and PRD, we have been collaborating with internal and external experts in the field of depression to come up with consensus disease definitions for the concepts of TRD and PRD.

  • How will EU-PEARL help those patients suffering from MDD?

A more complete classification of the disease definitions within MDD will better inform future research. Hopefully, this will help identify new and novel treatments for those not responding to traditional antidepressants. Furthermore, in clinical trials, not just specific to MDD, current models typically mean that only one treatment is evaluated at a time. With the lengthy process from trial to licensing, we are not developing and getting new treatments into clinical care fast enough. Nor are these trials patient friendly to navigate. A fundamental aspect of EU-PEARL is to design an IRP so that future trials may be shaped by our cross-collaborative, patient-centred approach.

  • And what would be the impact for researchers and clinicians?

We are developing a protocol for a longitudinal natural history study which will also help us build a better understanding of MDD. In the future, this will help researchers and clinicians to improve clinical care for this subgroup of patients. In this sense, with all the expertise involved in the project coming together from different backgrounds and working so collaboratively, I feel that EU-PEARL will be successful in transforming clinical trials.

  • Finally, what personal learning will you take away from this project?

Working so closely with other institutions from all over the world has already begun to change my thinking and taught me insights from different perspectives.  Coming from a team made up of academics and clinicians, I am now working with people who see things from, for example, a regulatory perspective. This is a very unique collaboration to have and learn from.



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