Researching microRNA to help improve diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia

Meet Joe Morgan, PhD student at the University of Salford. 

Joe, what are your favourite things? 

  • Book – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
  • Way to spend time – Travelling and exploring different places… but most importantly, exploring with my stomach and trying new food in new countries.
  • Memory – Trekking around Thailand, especially visiting Chiang Mai. 

Why dementia research? 

Having had family members and close family friends diagnosed with dementia, I think this was the real drive for me.

I have been unbelievably lucky to be able to tailor my studies to focus on dementia.

Now with the help of Alzheimer’s Society, I can further my understanding for this worthwhile cause. 

Joe Morgan

How has Alzheimer’s Society supported your work? 

The Society has not only backed the project I am involved with, but its funding also allows me to attend conferences to talk about my research and gain knowledge on other worthwhile and promising research. 

Knowing some of the work that is going on provides hope that we are on the cusp of something great within the field, and the majority of this wouldn’t be possible without funds raised by Alzheimer’s Society donors.

The support also opens new avenues to work with cutting-edge technology that will change the way we work in the future – such as the transcriptomic techniques we use to understand what is happening in tissues at specific timepoints during disease. 

What are you currently working on? 

We’re focused on identifying small molecules (microRNA) that could help early diagnosis. These can be detected in a non-invasive manner, as they travel around in extracellular vesicles – small packets that deliver microRNA between cells. 

I have successfully isolated these vesicles and the microRNA inside them in brain tissue from people with Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia

Soon, I will probe deeper into these molecules to identify which could act as a ‘biomarker’ – a sign that a person has dementia. 

What difference do you hope this will make? 

I hope to build on the foundations that the fantastic team I work with have already laid.

I want to identify specific microRNA biomarkers for Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia, all whilst understanding the relationship between these biomarkers and how the ways our brains get rid of waste are impaired. 

In what direction would you like to take your research in future? 

Since these small extracellular vesicles travel around in blood, cerebrospinal fluid, saliva and urine, it’s easier for us to obtain samples from living people.

If we identify the same biomarkers in these samples that we’ve found in brain tissue, we could apply this to improve our diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia.

Differentiating between these more accurately means we could adapt treatment and care better to an individual’s needs. 

How can you help?

£16 could support an hour of a PhD student’s research in the fight against dementia.

Donate now

Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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1 comment

What is the life expectancy for people with a FTD or early onset Alzheimer’s?