A window into hallucinations in dementia with Lewy bodies

Researchers from the University of Cambridge are using computer models to study dementia with Lewy bodies

Researching

Causes

This project will focus on visual hallucinations, a distressing symptom that affects around 80% of people with dementia with Lewy bodies. The aim of the study is to understand the interactions between nerve cells and different chemical systems in the brain, as well as how different parts of the brain are linked.

The Cambridge team will use a computer model to simulate what happens to brain cells and chemicals in the brain during hallucinations. This model would not only be useful for discovering new drugs, but also for re-developing or repurposing existing drugs that are used for other conditions but could hold benefit in dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) affects over 100,000 people in the UK. It can involve a range of challenging symptoms and researchers don’t fully understand the brain changes that underlie these. There are currently no treatments that can stop damage to the brain in DLB and researchers need to find out more about its causes in order to develop better ways to help people living with the disease.

Although the specific symptoms of DLB differ from one person to another, many people with the disease have distressing visual hallucinations often involving images of people, animals or objects. Visual hallucinations can increase stress, both for people with DLB and those who care for them, and mean that people need hospital care. A better understanding of the brain changes underpinning DLB symptoms such as hallucinations will help to improve how hallucinations are detected and managed in DLB.

This study includes 24 people with clinically diagnosed DLB and 24 healthy participants recruited from local NHS trusts and Join Dementia Research. Using state-of-the-art brain scan techniques, Dr Li Su and her team at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine will combine the information they gain from these scans to develop a computerised model of the brain which cause hallucinations in DLB.

Then, they will then use this information to simulate the specific biological activity in the brain when people with DLB experience hallucinations. Finally, the team will use their computer model and data to simulate how different drugs might affect hallucinations in DLB, paving the way to potential new treatment approaches.

A scientist holding a model of a human brain

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Awarded to
Dr Li Su

Institution
University of Cambridge

Current Award
£419, 456.95

Dates
1 April 2018 - 1 April 2022

Full project name
From molecules to recurrent visual hallucinations: multimodal imaging and computational modelling of Dementia with Lewy bodies.