Brain Study Seeks Answers on Dementia

Research which seeks to understand how the brain’s electrical behaviour is linked to dementia could pave the way for better treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Dr Jon Brown, at the University of Exeter Medical School, has just started a three year project to examine the complex networks within the brain, after initial evidence revealed that two areas, which are key to learning and memory, communicate abnormally under certain conditions.

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Dementia affects 820,000 people living in the UK, meaning 25 million people have a close friend or family member with the condition. As well as the huge personal cost, dementia costs the UK economy £23 billion a year, more than cancer and heart disease combined.

The research will be funded by a Senior Research Fellowship grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK, of nearly £320,000 over three years. The work is a collaboration involving the major pharmaceuticals company Lilly, who will supply some of the materials to enable the research.

Dr Brown said:
“Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia steal memories and wreck lives, putting an enormous strain both on family relationships, and a social care system which faces a huge challenge to meet the needs of an aging population. If we can better understand how the complex electrical networks within the brain miscommunicate in such cases, we can work towards targeting treatment more effectively and ultimately reducing the burden associated with these devastating diseases.”

Initial studies have indicated that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which are both crucial for learning and memory, communicate abnormally when excessive amounts of tau protein are produced. Dementia is known to be associated with altered tau production.

Dr Brown and his team will use state-of-the-art recording devices to monitor brainwaves during tasks which trigger communication between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. If these areas are found to malfunction when tau levels are excessive, it could have implications which will help target dementia treatment more effectively in the future.

Dr Brown’s grant award is part of a £5.5 million investment made by Alzheimer’s Research UK over the last 12 months.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“We are really pleased to be funding this important study to learn more about the protein tau, which is involved not only in Alzheimer’s disease but other dementias, such as frontotemporal dementia. There are still many unanswered questions about how tau can cause damage in the brain and this study should help to provide some of these answers.

“Despite the growing numbers of people with dementia, there are still no treatments available that can slow or stop the underlying diseases that cause it. Research is the only way to find new treatments, but research into dementia remains hugely underfunded. As the UK’s largest charity funder of dementia research, we are committed to funding projects like this, that have the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives in the future.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

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