What is your gut telling you?

Dr Luke Whiley talks about his dementia research investigating connections between the gut and brain.

Dr Luke Whiley at work in the lab

Who are you?

My name is Luke Whiley and I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the UK Dementia Research Institute at Imperial College London. I am researching how and why people get dementia.

Before I started this work at Imperial, I did my PhD at King’s College London. This involved investigating how certain fats – lipids – in the brain are different in people who have Alzheimer’s.

What are you researching now?

My research involves looking at processes in our body that make us who we are, and which have an impact on our health and disease.

Some of these things can be controlled by lifestyle factors such as what we eat and whether we smoke. However, other factors – including the genes we inherit from our parents – are beyond our control.

Gut brain

In particular, I’m looking at the gut and how the combination of bacteria that normally live there can influence our health. We believe there are more bacterial cells in our gut than there are of our own cells in our entire body, so it is understandable that they could play a big role in our health.

Many of the effects that these bacteria have on our bodies are believed to be good for us, but some could make us ill. Some bacteria even release chemicals that create signals provoking a response in our brains.

My work focuses on these chemicals to see if they could affect the processes that lead to dementia.

Gut-brain research in the news

 New studies bring advances along the gut-liver-brain axis in Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more

Why is this research important?

This research is important for two main reasons. First, if I discover that gut bacteria influence our brain health, this could help to explain why some people develop dementia while others have healthy brains until old age.

Secondly, if we identify which bacteria are protecting or hurting our brain health, then we can develop treatments to control the ‘bad’ bacteria and encourage the ‘good’, helping to keep our brains healthy throughout life.

What is next for you and your research?

Now that the UK Dementia Research Institute is up and running, this is a really exciting time for our field. I’m surrounded by team members from lots of different backgrounds, and we’re all linking up and working together to tackle dementia. For example, our research now involves analytical scientists, microbiologists, statisticians, geneticists and epidemiologists. We’re bringing all of this together to help us get an overall picture of health and dementia.

As for me personally, I’m expanding my research skills, ideas and networks of other researchers. Long term, I want to lead my own research group to help further uncover the causes of dementia.

Luke has also signed up to run the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon for Dementia Revolution to raise funds for the UK Dementia Research Institute.

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Care and cure magazine: Winter 18

Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
Subscribe now
Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
Subscribe now


Add a comment

Hi there
This makes sense, I have always thought that there is a link between brain and gut health. Let's hope that our dedicated doctors and scientists get there as soon as possible to end this devasting disease has on the person and their families. I am great believer in quality probiotics and healthy eating as a start to all this new research.
Please keep going

This is helpful

I think it is wonderful that so much hard work is being carried out to understand the hows and whys of such a disgusting disease. We are very lucky to have dedicated doctors and scientists who are able to make a difference.
However, at this time, I do think that the title is quite misleading. Care and Cure suggests that there is a cure. I appreciate that the research could and hopefully will lead to a cure but right now, there isn't one.
Please reconsider the title for all those who have it, those that have loved ones with it, those who work with patients with it, those who support the families and friends of those with it, those who are studying courses on it and so on.
Thank you

This is helpful

Hi Wendy,

Thanks for your feedback, and we're sorry if the title has been misleading.

To clarify how the magazine title was chosen, Care and cure was named to reflect the research that Alzheimer’s Society funds, both biomedical – focused on new treatments and potential cures, and Care – focused on improving the lives of people living with dementia today. We can certainly understand your perspective as there isn’t currently a cure.

That said, we are optimistic that a cure is on its way and that it is through the research that the magazine describes that we will get there. It's because of this optimism and for our confidence in our researchers and researchers around the world that we chose the name Care and cure.

Hopefully this helpful, and thanks again for providing feedback. We really do appreciate hearing what readers think of the magazine and it's title.

This is helpful
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