Just below the surface of the brain

Researchers at University College London seek to identify changes just under the surface of the brain that could indicate the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease



There is evidence that a part of the brain just under the outermost surface, known as the superficial white matter (SWM), may be one of the first structures to show signs of damage in Alzheimer’s disease. Its complex structure makes it difficult to measure these subtle, early changes to SWM using traditional methods. In this PhD project led by Prof Nick Fox, his team will take advantage of cutting edge brain imaging technology to zero in on these changes. They will assess how strongly changes to SWM relate to symptoms, and whether this technique could improve upon the current methods of detecting and monitoring the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease begins with the slow build up of toxic proteins, damage to the brain and a loss of nerve cells. These changes occur even before people start to experience symptoms, but they are difficult to detect with current techniques. Being able to diagnose people earlier and more accurately would ensure that people receive the best support currently available, and it would mean that future treatments could be administered early, when they are likely to be most effective. Researchers want to discover whether these slightest changes in the brain structure can be measured using cutting edge imaging technology and if they can develop this technique as an early detection method in Alzheimer’s disease.

UCL is a leading centre for dementia research and Prof Fox’s team have been working very closely with large groups of people with different forms of Alzheimer’s disease for many years. While this study involves extensive new analysis, the project will be able to take advantage of data that is being collected as part of other studies already underway at the university. This award will allow researchers to capitalise on the innovative brain scanning techniques being employed by UCL, and study important changes just under the surface of the brain, in more detail than ever before.

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Awarded to
Prof Nick Fox

University College London

Current Award

24 September 2018 - 23 September 2021

Full project name
Just below the surface: Understanding the role of superficial white matter in Alzheimer's disease