Congratulations to Elijah Mak, a third-year PhD student in the Department of Psychiatry, who was recently awarded a poster prize by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) at their dementia Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) inaugural networking event. The prize was awarded for his poster on his longitudinal assessment of brain changes and cognitive decline in older individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD) compared to healthy older people.
The dementia BRU was set up by the NIHR in 2012 to address the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge. It is currently comprised of four research centres: the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, University College London and Newcastle University. The aim of the BRU is to promote experimental medicine and research, with a strong collaborative and translational focus. The networking event was held at University College London and brought together more than 70 of the UK’s leading researchers and research students.
PD is sometimes associated with dementia and mild cognitive impairment, but it is difficult to determine who will develop these symptoms. Elijah examined this using a longitudinal study design, following individuals over an 18-month period. His subjects were PD patients with or without mild cognitive impairment, as well as healthy older individuals. At the start of the study, Elijah found that only PD patients with mild cognitive impairment had reductions in the thickness of their grey matter across the cerebral cortex compared to healthy individuals. This ‘cortical thinning’ has been previously associated with cognitive decline in dementia and may help with early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Elijah found that over course of the 18-month study period, the two PD groups showed this cortical thinning in different parts of the brain, suggesting unique pathways to decline. Interestingly, some PD patients without mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study turned out to suffer these impairments at the end. These individuals demonstrated more severe thinning of the bilateral temporalcortex, a region that largely supports learning and memory, as well as language comprehension and other functions.
Elijah’s work improves our knowledge about factors predicting the progression of age-related diseases, such as dementia. This novel and timely study could benefit the development of earlier identification of specific types of neurodegenerative diseases, facilitating more targeted and individualised early interventions and treatment.
Elijah will be presenting this work at the IPA 2015 in Berlin later this month.
Congratulations on this achievement, Elijah!
This post was written by Laurel Morris.