Spotting the early signs of inherited forms of frontotemporal dementia

Research project: Multimodal disease staging in genetic frontotemporal dementia.

Lead Investigator: Dr Martina Bocchetta

  • Institution: University College London
  • Grant type: Junior Fellowship
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Amount: £198,913

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

Good cost effective project looking at developments in the brain many years before symptoms develop should prove helpful in helping with prevention.

Project summary

At the moment we don’t understand enough about the earliest changes in the brain caused by inherited forms of frontotemporal dementia. This study will use advanced brain imaging techniques to detect and track the earliest changes. This information could improve diagnosis and be crucial in future clinical trials of new treatments, as it may help to test whether the drugs being tested are working.

The background 

Frontotemporal dementia is a less common type of dementia and there are currently no effective treatments. It is called frontotemporal dementia because the condition affects the frontal lobes of the brain (important for behaviour, problem solving, planning and emotions) and the temporal lobes (important for language and recognising objects).

About one third of people who have frontotemporal dementia have the disease because of an inherited problem (known as a mutation) in their genes.

These gene mutations are rare and the changes to the brain can be different depending on the particular genes that are affected, so it has been challenging to study the earliest changes in the brain. Being able to detect and track these changes is very important as it will help in clinical trials to test whether new drugs are working.

What does this project involve?

In this project the researchers will analyse different types of brain scan that can detect shrinkage of the brain and changes in connections between different parts of the brain. These brain scans have already been collected as part of a large international study, the Genetic FTD Initiative.

People in families with one of three particular genetic mutations took part in the study, having brain scans over the course of a number of years, even before they developed symptoms.

Analysing these brain scans will allow the researchers to detect the different structures of the brain that are affected early on in the disease. They will also be able to track how these brain structures change over time.

How will this project help people with dementia?

This project will help to improve understanding of frontotemporal dementia. Being able to detect and track early changes in the brain could help to diagnose people earlier and more accurately. 

When new treatments are tested they are likely to given to people even before they develop symptoms, so researchers will need to measure whether the treatments reduce harmful changes in the brain. This project aims to improve how we can detect and track these changes, so what we learn from this study could play an important part in measuring whether tests of new treatments are working.