Improving scanning techniques to help diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies

Lead Investigator: Ms Gemma Roberts

Institution: University of Newcastle

Grant type: Clinical Training Fellowship

Duration: 36 months

Amount: £208,226

Scientific Title: Improving the early diagnosis of Dementia with Lewy Bodies using quantitative assessment of nuclear medicine scans

Why did we fund this project?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'This project hopefully will help to reduce uncertainty experienced with early dementia diagnosis and prognosis. Reliable early detection of DLB can only be of benefit to individuals.'

'The importance of a quick and accurate diagnosis makes this project very important and it should start as soon as possible. We seem to have the technology but reading the information given seems to be lagging behind.'

'If there turns out to be a link between Parkinson's, Lewy Body and Alzheimer's diseases this early diagnosis improvement may have even wider uses.'

What do we already know?

Dementia with Lewy bodies can be difficult to diagnose as the symptoms can sometimes overlap with those of Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. It is important to diagnose people accurately as soon as possible so that they can access the correct information, support and treatments for their particular condition. This is particularly important for people with dementia with Lewy bodies as they may have bad reactions to certain anti-psychotic drugs that may be prescribed for other conditions.

Diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies can be done using particular types of brain scans, using radioactive tracers to highlight parts of the brain that are damaged by the condition. However, sometimes it can be difficult to tell using these scans whether someone is affected by the condition or not as the changes to the brain, particularly in the earlier stages, can be very small and hard to spot. 

There is also some evidence that dementia with Lewy bodies can damage nerves that control heart rate. It is thought that this damage could occur earlier than the effects seen in the brain. A type of scan called a Cardiac MIBG can show whether these nerves that control the heart are damaged. 

What does this project involve?

Ms Roberts aims to use her background in medical physics to find ways to improve the accuracy of both the brain scanning technique and the cardiac MIBG in order to better diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies. She will use existing scan data to create computer models that will be used to test different ways that the images are taken. The researchers will use this data to understand how best to analyse the images. 

This work will allow researchers to better understand what is being shown by the scans and what signs can be used to diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies. 

How will this benefit people with dementia?

Understanding more about what the scans are able to show will help researchers to better and more accurately diagnose conditions such as dementia with Lewy bodies. This work also has implications for future clinical trials, as people will be able to enter the trials as soon as possible and researchers will be able to see in greater detail how the body is responding to potential treatments.

This research will therefore enable people affected by dementia with Lewy bodies to receive an early and accurate diagnosis, and holds promise for helping to find potential treatments for this condition.