Doctoral Training Centres

2. Newcastle Doctoral Training Centre

Understanding the non-cognitive symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies 

Lead investigator: Professor Alan Thomas
Co-investigators: Professor Johannes Attems, Dr Christopher Morris, Professor Lynn Rochester, Dr Brook Galna, Dr Fiona LeBeau, Dr Ahmed Khundakar, Dr John-Paul Taylor, Professor Andrew Blamire, Dr Peter Gallagher. Grant type: Doctoral Training Centre
Amount: £350,000
Scientific title: Understanding the Basis and Interaction of Non-cognitive and Cognitive Symptoms in Dementia with Lewy Bodies

The Newcastle Doctoral Training Centre has received generous support from Deloitte.  

What is a Doctoral Training Centre?

Alzheimer's Society Doctoral Training Centres (DTC) aim to create a cluster of PhD students and clinical fellows working on themed area of dementia research. In addition to generating new knowledge on the theme, the DTCs will also provide support and training to develop the next generation of dementia research leaders. 

Why did we fund this centre? Comments from our Research Network:

'The higher levels of distress experienced by patients with Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB), plus the likelihood of their needing care sooner means this work should be a research priority.'

'A very comprehensive set of related studies into a crucial research area of dementia being carried out in a very strong research environment.'

'This proposal addresses a very real need with its focus on relevant and distressing DLB symptoms.'

What do we already know? 

Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) accounts for up to 10 per cent of all dementia cases. As well as cognitive symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and changes in alertness, people with DLB also experience some challenging non-cognitive symptoms. These include vivid hallucinations, disturbed sleep, depression and problems with walking. The non-cognitive symptoms are common and can be extremely distressing for people with the condition and those who care for them.

Current treatments for the non-cognitive symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies are extremely limited. Research shows that, on average, people with DLB have a lower quality of life than people with other forms of dementia and are more likely to enternursing homes sooner. Health and social care for people with DLB is therefore more expensive, with one study finding care costs to be over twice those for Alzheimer's disease

What will this Doctoral Training Centre investigate?

The Newcastle Doctoral Training Centre will support five PhD students to improve our understanding of the biology of the non-cognitive symptoms of DLB and how they relate to the cognitive symptoms. Specifically, the research will focus on some of the less well studied symptoms of depression, problems with walking and fluctuations in attention and alertness.

Understanding what happens in the brains of people with DLB to cause these symptoms could lead to tests which improve diagnosis and assessment, and, potentially, to new treatments for these symptoms to improve the lives of future patients.

What will the students do?

About 90 per cent of people with DLB experience fluctuations in their memory, thinking and ability to pay attention which is called cognitive fluctuations. At its worst, this symptom can cause people to change from periods of severe dementia to nearly normal brain function within one day. Three doctoral students in the Newcastle DTC will investigate the brain circuits involved in cognitive fluctuations and look at what electrical and chemical changes occur in these circuits. These projects will use human post-mortem brain tissue, animal models and brain scans conducted in volunteers with different kinds of dementia.

Another student will use human post-mortem brain tissue to investigate the biochemical basis of depression in people with Dementia with Lewy Bodies. They will compare chemical changes in the brains of people with DLB to brains from people withAlzheimer's disease and older healthy people to understand why people with DLB are more likely to suffer from depression.

The fifth PhD project will focus on problems with walking, a symptom that is common in people with DLB, and develop a way to measure it. They will assess walking and mobility in people with several types of dementia to determine whether this symptom can be used distinguish between dementia types during the diagnosis process.

How will this benefit people affected by dementia?

Understanding more about the non-cognitive symptoms and how they relate to memory loss, will lead to better assessment of the symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies, which will help to improve diagnosis of the condition.

By investigating the brain changes responsible for cognitive fluctuations, this research could identify potential targets for new treatments. Treatments to help stabilise cognitive fluctuations in people with DLB could bring relief from this distressing symptom and help them to enjoy a better quality of life.