Newcastle scientists get £720k to research dementia with Lewy bodies

21 September 2022

  • Researchers will test drug for dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Project will look to uncover whether a type of fat is responsible for brain damage

Alzheimer’s Research UK has announced £720k of new funding for Newcastle researchers across two major projects to boost research into dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), the third most common cause of the dementia. The funding comes on World Alzheimer’s Day, an international initiative to raise awareness of the diseases that causes dementia.

People with DLB can experience common dementia symptoms, including memory loss and problems with spatial awareness but there are also more specific features of the disease, such as changes in alertness, visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances and movement difficulties.

Around 100,000 people are living with the DLB in the UK. Although research is making great strides in finding treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer’s Research UK is working to make breakthroughs possible for everyone affected by dementia.

In a £350,000 project, Prof John-Paul Taylor at Newcastle University will monitor how the levels of chemical messengers in the brains of people with early-stage DLB change in response to a symptomatic drug called Donepezil.

Donepezil is a designed to boost the levels of these messengers and alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but it also often prescribed to people with DLB.

Using brain imaging and wearable sensor technology, Prof Taylor hopes to demonstrate new ways to accurately track levels of these messengers in the brains of people with early-stage DLB.

Speaking about the funding, Alzheimer’s Research UK scientist, Prof John-Paul Taylor said:
“The hope is this research will reveal why drugs targeting DLB symptoms work well for some people but not for others. Understanding how they affect the brain differently in different people could help pave the way for more effective DLB treatments for all in the future.”

In a separate, £420,000 project, Dr Daniel Erskine will investigate brain changes that may be fundamental to the way DLB develops and causes devastating symptoms. Components of our brain cells that are damaged during disease include those that produce energy (mitochondria) and those that help recycle waste products (lysosomes).

Dr Erskine’s work suggests this damage might be a side-effect of the ultimate culprit, a type of fat molecule called sphingolipids. These molecules may be what damage the cell components and the cause of proteins clumping together to form the ‘Lewy bodies’ that give their name to the disease.

Dr Erskine, an Alzheimer’s Research UK Senior Research Fellow, said:
Dr Daniel Erskine“There’s currently no treatment that can slow the development of DLB in the brain. This suggests that we still do not know enough about how the disease causes damage to the brain and produces such complex symptoms.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK have helped fund me at a critical time in my career. With one dementia researcher for every four cancer researchers, it’s important to increase the number of experts working in the field so we can deliver breakthroughs that change and save lives as we have in cancer. Funding a Senior Research Fellowship like this, will allow me to answer important questions getting us closer to running my own research group.”

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said

“Nearly 40,000 people in the North-East are living with dementia, but research has the power to transform the lives of everyone affected, and it will take all of us to make breakthroughs possible.

“Thanks to committed fundraisers in the North-East we’re able to fund these research projects and others like it. Newcastle University is a pioneering hub of excellence for research into dementia with Lewy bodies and it was where the disease was first defined. It’s great to see this new research get underway in the region.”