Southampton student takes to the stage at UK’s largest dementia research conference

Emma Garland Research Conference
Emma Garland Research Conference

By Quang Tran | Wednesday 15 March 2023

A University of Southampton PhD student has presented new research findings at the UK’s largest annual dementia research conference in Aberdeen this week. The audience of nearly 600 dementia scientists have come together to discuss new discoveries, forge collaborations, and accelerate progress towards improving the lives of millions of people living with this heartbreaking condition.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity, funding research into the causes of dementia, diagnosis, preventions and treatments. Alzheimer’s Research UK has funded over £4 million of research at the University of Southampton, a major centre for research into the condition.

PhD student Emma Garland, from the University’s Clinical Neuroscience Group, is speaking to research colleagues from across the country about findings from her research into brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain inflammation is normally a helpful response that protects the brain from infections and limits potential harm. In Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation can go awry and contribute to damage to the brain.

Specialist scans can reveal inflammation in the brain by highlighting a protein called TPSO which is produced by immune cells in the brain. But as inflammation is a double-edged sword, we don’t know whether TPSO indicates inflammation that is helping or harming the brain.

Emma Garland, PhD student at the University of Southampton, said:
“Alzheimer’s is a complex disease that involves many different biological processes. In the last decade, inflammation has emerged as a key aspect of the disease and a promising target for future treatments. My project aims to help doctors understand whether the patient has protective or harmful inflammation when examining brain scans using a target protein called TSPO, as well as increasing our understanding of the inflammation process in Alzheimer’s.

“Using brain tissue generously donated by people who died with Alzheimer’s disease, my results suggest that the TPSO protein is a useful marker of inflammation in Alzheimer’s, particularly in the later stages of the disease. If confirmed in future studies, this could help doctors to understand what they are seeing in brain scans of inflammation.

“It’s very exciting to present my work at such a large conference and to share what I have found so far. It has been great to meet with so many passionate dementia researchers who are all part of the effort to transform lives.”

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“There are nearly 1 million people in the UK living with dementia including around 25,000 in Hampshire alone. These numbers are only set to rise, and the only way to change this story is through research.

“As part of our work to bring about life-changing breakthroughs for people with dementia, we are prioritising support to early career researchers to ensure we have the future research leaders of tomorrow.

“It’s fantastic to see talented young researchers like Emma helping to take on our greatest medical challenge, producing such high-quality research and sharing their findings on such an important platform.”

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Quang Tran