Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
29 Aug 2018
Dementias Platform UK is a world-leading digital treasure trove, holding health data from millions of people, to help understand and treat dementia. Their one-stop shop gives researchers access to health data for dementia research and recognises contributions from researchers across the pay grade. Director Professor John Gallacher explains why it’s good for science and scientists.
Professor John Gallacher, Director of the Dementias Platform UK
In the UK, we’re fortunate to have a growing, rich resource of data from people that take part in studies which follow their health and lifestyle choices over time, known as cohort studies.
But there isn’t a single standardised way of storing and analysing this information. Without the right tools to search, interrogate and analyse this information, the data can seem impenetrable.
At Dementias Platform UK (DPUK) we have a solution – a place for researchers to access all the data they need to answer some of the toughest questions about dementia. We want the best minds to access the best data, regardless of their location. [...]
Continue reading: How secure data sharing can help us treat dementia
26 Jun 2018
Patient data has the power to revolutionise our approach to medical research and help improve human health. We’re funding scientists to use big data to tackle some of the biggest health challenges, including neurodegeneration. Here Ed Pinches, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, tells us why access to large data sets is so important in our fight against dementia.
It’s the hot topic, the subject dominating much of the latest news. Data. Your data. How it is used, how it is stored, who gets to access it, and for what purpose?
Continue reading: The power of big data
7 Nov 2017
In her runner-up article for our 2017 Max Perutz Science Writing Award Nadine Mirza, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, explains why changes are needed to a routine test for diagnosing dementia, unbiased by language or culture, to prevent incorrect diagnoses.
Have you heard the saying “No ifs ands or buts”? Associated with grannies and teachers, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t. It’s also a saying used in the ACE, a test implemented across the UK to detect dementia. An individual has to read the saying out loud with correct pronunciation. When directly translated into Urdu it loses meaning and becomes gibberish and reading out gibberish isn’t a smooth task. Even a fluent Urdu speaker might fail. But would we attribute that to dementia? Apparently, yes. [...]
Continue reading: Avoiding gibberish when assessing for dementia
1 Nov 2017
By studying large groups of people over time, researchers are trying to spot early signs of diseases, including dementia. As large studies are huge undertakings it makes sense to check what’s already out there before setting up a new one – but this is no easy task. A new tool aims to help by collecting neurodegenerative disease cohort studies in one place. Professor Dag Aarsland, a leading dementia researcher, put the JPND Global Cohort Portal through its paces.
I study a specific type of dementia called dementia with Lewy bodies. Despite being the second most common form of neurodegenerative dementia, we know little about how it progresses. This information is important to inform diagnosis and research.
Collating existing data
In 2014, I led an international working group supported by the EU Joint Programme for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND). It focused on solving some of the challenges of using cohorts – studies involving large groups of people – for research on dementia with Lewy bodies.
Our working group agreed that we need to combine data, collected in past and existing cohort studies, to define criteria for early diagnosis of this common type of dementia. To do this, we need a full view of what data is already out there, something that the new JPND Global Cohort Portal offers. [...]
Continue reading: Sharing data to speed up dementia research
21 Sep 2017
Alois Alzheimer first described his eponymous disease a century ago, but there are still no effective treatments. For World Alzheimer’s Day, Professor Bart de Strooper, Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, asks why that is, and tells us how that might all be about to change.
Professor Bart de Strooper
In the early 1900s, a German neurologist called Alois Alzheimer became obsessed with studying an Asylum patient in her 50s, who had started to show unusual behavioural changes, including short-term memory loss. After her death he examined her brain and discovered structures known as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles – the hallmarks of what became known as Alzheimer’s disease. So why, when we’ve known about the disease for so long, are there still no treatments? [...]
Continue reading: Dementia: why don’t we have any treatments yet?
14 Sep 2016
Just how useful is it to get access to a pharmaceutical company compound? Back in 2012 Dr Richard Mead of the University of Sheffield was one of 15 academic project leaders funded by the MRC to research an alternative use for a compound no longer being developed by AstraZeneca. As we launch the next round of the MRC-Industry Asset Sharing Initiative he tells us how the collaboration has brought together the best of both worlds.
Copyright: Richard Mead
I’m no stranger to the pharmaceutical industry. I spent three years in drug development at Celltech in the early 2000s. But even with my experience, it’s still amazing to be reminded of the resources that pharmaceutical companies have at their fingertips. It sounds obvious, but their access to unique compounds, and their ability to make them, is impressive. [...]
Continue reading: Why MRC-industry asset sharing is a win-win for me
24 Aug 2016
Jennifer Lawson is the Trials Manager for the recently launched Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study looking to do the most in-depth research ever conducted to find out how Alzheimer’s disease develops. She is part of Professor Simon Lovestone’s Translational Neuroscience and Dementia Research group at the University of Oxford.
Career in brief
- Psychology BSc
- Worked at the Oxford Mental Health Trust as a Research Coordinator
- Part time Cognitive Neuroscience MSc whilst working full time at the Trust
- Managed the feasibility study that has led to this Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study
My career path has been slightly unusual. Like many of my peers studying psychology, I planned to become a clinical psychologist. So I went to gain experience working in Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, assisting with clinical trials and other research studies. [...]
Continue reading: Working life: Trials Manager Jen Lawson
3 May 2016
Charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK will be instrumental in involving people living with dementia in the work of the new £250m MRC-led UK Dementia Research Institute. Here Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Keith Oliver shares his hopes for how the new institute will make life better for people with dementia, now and tomorrow.
Photo copyright: Alzheimer’s Society
My world changed in 2010 when I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 55. My early symptoms were falling over, an element of reduced concentration and being unable to follow things as well as I did previously.
I went to the GP thinking I’d got an ear infection and was sent for an MRI scan. When I had an appointment with a neurologist to discuss the scan he said, totally out of the blue, that it looked like the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. After attending a memory clinic for around four months of quite intensive testing and assessments I received a diagnosis. [...]
Continue reading: Dementia: care today, cure tomorrow
14 Apr 2016
Today, the UK Biobank has launched the largest body scanning project in the world. Funded by the MRC, Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation, the biobank will scan 100,000 people to provide images of their brains, hearts, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat. Head of the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London Professor Paul Matthews is one of the academic experts who have been supporting UK Biobank to create this resource and he tells us how it could prove invaluable to all areas of medicine.
Building the bank
Over 10 years, the UK Biobank has recruited and gathered a wealth of high quality information from 500,000 people across the country. These people have donated blood, urine and saliva samples, provided detailed health, lifestyle and environment information and agreed to allow the biobank to follow their GP and hospital records throughout life.
Now we will be adding sophisticated imaging to enrich our understanding of the origins and progression of the major diseases of later life. [...]
Continue reading: UK Biobank: looking at the whole person
15 Jan 2016
This week Mr John Scott, a member of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, was able to meet his grey and his white matter in models made by the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) and the National Museum of Scotland which are due to form part of a new gallery opening in summer 2016. Sylvie Kruiniger talks to CCACE’s Dr Simon Cox about the project.
(Image copyright: National Museums of Scotland)
How many people can say that they have held their own brain in their hands? In this picture, Mr Scott is doing just that. Its size, shape and folds perfectly match those housed inside his head. The 3D print of his brain’s outer surface will sit alongside a strikingly beautiful image of his white matter etched in glass at the National Museums of Scotland from summer 2016.
Mr Scott’s brain has been imaged numerous times over the past decade as part of studies of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (LBC1936). The team, led by Professor Ian Deary (whose office we have visited in a previous post), used different types of MRI scan generated by the University of Edinburgh’s Brain Research Imaging Centre to generate the two objects for the museum’s collection. His white matter was mapped by a diffusion tensor MRI and, for the 3D print, his cortical surface was mapped by a standard structural scan. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: When Mr Scott met his brain