Research Projects

Are altered brain connections an early sign of dementia?

Awarded to:
Dr Daniel Blackburn

Current award:

University of Sheffield

1 September 2014 - 29 February 2016

Full project name:

Developing a new biomarker for the early diagnosis of dementia; a novel nonlinear signal processing approach using resting state EEG






A Sheffield researcher will investigate whether changes in the way nerve cells are connected might be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.

Nerve cells in the brain work together to produce processes such as thoughts and actions.

Nerve cells that are involved in the same processes are said to be ‘functionally connected’ regardless of whether they are actually directly physically connected.

There is evidence that this functional connectivity is disrupted in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, causing problems with recalling memories and carrying out simple tasks.

A researcher at the University of Sheffield aims to characterise these critical early changes which could potentially be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s much earlier than is currently possible.

Why is this important?

A timely diagnosis of dementia is important for people to plan and receive the support they need.

It is also useful for selecting people to put forward for clinical trials.

We know that the disease processes in Alzheimer’s begin long before symptoms such as memory loss appear.

Scientists think that treatments currently being tested will be most effective in this early stage – before irreversible damage has been done.

What will they do?

Dr Blackburn will use a state-of-the-art technique called electroencephalography (EEG) to study nerve cell connectivity in 15 people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

This sophisticated piece of technology uses probes on the scalp to detect the electrical signals produced by different regions of the brain.

Nerve cell communication is dependent on the transfer of chemical messengers between cells, and this transfer generates electrical signals.

Using this EEG equipment, the team can look at which areas of the brain are firing at the same time.

Dr Blackburn believes that this technique could be used to detect subtle changes in brain connectivity in the initial stages of the condition.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of cases in older people.

what is alz image