Care and cure magazine - Autumn 2017

4. A meeting of minds

Researchers at a conference

The world’s largest dementia research conference came to London in July, allowing researchers to share their findings widely.

Every year the US-based Alzheimer’s Association brings dementia researchers and experts from around the world together to discuss the latest progress in the field.

We were thrilled that the 2017 conference brought over 5,600 researchers to the ExCeL Centre in London. Our research team was in the thick of it, learning more about many aspects of dementia research and discussing the latest news and views with experts. Here are just a few of our highlights.

Detecting the earliest signs

A key theme of this year’s conference was how to identify who is most likely to develop dementia in the future. This is important because the people affected could then take part in clinical trials aimed at preventing the condition or treating it in its early stages.

Many discussions focused on biological signals called biomarkers that can offer up clues to someone’s risk of dementia. Several researchers are looking for signals related to the two hallmark proteins of Alzheimer’s, called amyloid and tau. Both of these proteins can be found in the cerebrospinal fluid using a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap. However, lumbar punctures can be uncomfortable, so researchers want to find better procedures that can spot amyloid or tau.

Recent advances in a brain scanning technique called positron emission tomography (PET) mean that researchers can now see who has deposits of amyloid in the brain. Evidence presented at the conference shows that these scans can help to make a more accurate diagnosis in some cases. PET scans that can detect the tau protein are also now used in research. Some researchers at the conference suggested that we’ll eventually be able to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s from the results of brain scans, even before symptoms develop. While these scans hold promise for the future, they are not yet ready for use in routine clinical practice and they are very expensive.

Working towards GREATness

One of the most exciting findings in dementia care presented at the conference came from the GREAT trial. This trial, run by researchers at the University of Exeter, focused on discovering whether ‘goal-orientated therapy’ could help people with dementia to live better. People with dementia worked with an occupational therapist to set goals and work out the best ways to reach them. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the people who had received the therapy were better able to achieve their goals a group of people who had not had the opportunity to work with an occupational therapist in this way.

This is just a tiny snapshot of the huge body of work discussed during the five-day conference. It is always great to hear the results of collaborations and dialogue, and we left feeling positive that so many researchers are uniting to share thoughts, data and expertise, and will continue to work together to make dementia a thing of the past.

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