Sheffield Alzheimer’s experts receive over £250,000 charity funding boost

In the run up to World Alzheimer’s Day on 21 September, two dementia researchers at the University of Sheffield are celebrating over £250,000 of new funding to understand the complex changes that occur in the initial stages of the disease.

Posted on 15th September 2014

In the run up to World Alzheimer’s Day on 21 September, two dementia researchers at the University of Sheffield are celebrating over £250,000 of new funding to understand the complex changes that occur in the initial stages of the disease. Dr Daniel Blackburn and Dr Jason Berwick received the funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Their research will tackle a key conundrum in dementia research; how can we detect the initial steps in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease?

The researchers will approach this question from different angles, but both hope their research will enable people with memory and thinking problems to receive an accurate diagnosis earlier in the disease. An early and accurate diagnosis allows people access to support and information, as well as the opportunity to benefit from involvement in research studies.

Dr Blackburn is a consultant neurologist based at the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITRAN). He said:

“We plan to use a sophisticated technique called electroencephalography (EEG) to study nerve cell communication in people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The machines we have can detect electrical ‘pulses’ in the brain using probes on the scalp, and show us how well nerve cells are communicating. We hope this technique will help us study subtle changes in nerve cell communication in the initial stages of the dementia that could help us detect the condition far easier.”

Dr Berwick, from the Department of Psychology, has spent his career trying to understand how the images provided by brain scans relate to underlying brain biology. Now, as part of a scheme to bring scientists into the field, he will apply the techniques he has developed to help solve complex problems in dementia research, collaborating with colleagues from SITRAN. Dr Berwick will use a modern brain scanning technique called functional MRI (fMRI) in rats, to investigate the complex ‘brain plumbing’ that provides the brain with oxygen and energy. Faults in this plumbing can lead to problems with nerve cell function and may play a role in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s. Again, a better understanding of these early changes in the brain will help researchers develop ways to better diagnose and potentially treat the condition.

Dr Laura Phipps, Science Communication Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“Nearly 17,000 people in South Yorkshire have dementia and more than half of these people will have Alzheimer’s. It is great to see two experts at the University of Sheffield, with different scientific backgrounds, both trying to understand the complex changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Research UK is committed to funding the best research up and down the country that will take us closer to a world free from dementia. Developing tools that can help give people a more accurate and timely diagnosis of dementia is very important as it would provide people access to support networks and any available treatments. The work will shed light on some of the brain pathways that could be pursued further in the hunt for new treatments to halt the condition”.

Members of the public can learn more about dementia research taking place in Yorkshire at an upcoming public meeting on 30 September from 5pm at The Showroom in Sheffield. There will be an opportunity to hear Dr Blackburn discussing strategies to prevent dementia, as well as other experts giving insights into living well with dementia and the different forms of the condition. Places are free and should be reserved by contacting Lorraine Henery on 0114 2711848 or email l.henery@sheffield.ac.uk. The free meeting will be followed by a film screening of ‘Alive inside’, a documentary about living with Alzheimer’s. Tickets can be booked via The Showroom, or on the day.

Posted in Science news