This year Cambridge students swept both of the David Dawbarn Poster Prizes, awarded to the two most outstanding posters each year at the Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) conference. Psychiatry PhD-student Elijah Mak and Clinical Neuroscience PhD-student Patricia Vázquez Rodríguez were recognised for this award at the conference, hosted in Manchester last week. According to the ARUK website, the prize “was set up in memory of Dr David Dawbarn, a distinguished neuroscientist.” Mak and Vázquez Rodríguez were each awarded £100 for this honour.
Mak’s research compared MRI brainscan images of individuals with two forms of dementia, Alzheimers Disease (AD) and Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB), to patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and healthy controls. In particular, he was interested in how the volume of different parts of the medial temporal lobe, a region of the brain associated with long term memory, varied between conditions and also between patients with different levels of cognitive impairment. While there was no significant difference in the size of the hippocampus between controls and DLB patients, there was a difference between AD and control, and between MCI and control. When he examined the individual regions of the hippocampus, he found that all of the sub-regions of the hippocampus were different from control in AD, and all but the CA2-3 region were different between controls and MCI. No regions of DLB differed in volume from control.
“Dementia with Lewy bodies is the second most common type of degenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, and both conditions share overlapping clinical features,” said Mak. “We found evidence that DLB and AD are characterised by different cortical and subcortical patterns of atrophy, which were in turn associated with different cognitive functions. Neuropsychologically, AD patients tend to have more severe memory impairment, whereas patients with DLB have more severe visuospatial deficits, meaning that they have more impairments in their perception and interpretation of where objects in space are.”
Vázquez Rodríguez’ work looked at whether it is possible to use [18F]AV1451 PET, a neuroimaging technique, to differentiate between different forms of dementia. With this technique, the chemical [18F]AV1451 is injected into the bloodstream and its location in the brain is tracked. In previous work in rodents and in postmortem brains, [18F]AV1451 has been shown to associate with defective tau proteins, a pathology long known to be associated with dementia. She found that, compared to controls, patients with AD had higher amounts of [18F]AV1451 in the amygdala, hippocampus, and parts of cortex. By contrast, patients with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP)—a disease characterised by the gradual degradation of several brain regions—had higher amounts of [18F]AV1451 in the midbrain and palladium. This implies that defective tau protein was also concentrated in these regions. Furthermore, she found that machine learning techniques could use these images to determine whether someone had AD or PSP with very high accuracy. These results could improve our methods for diagnosis.
“Specifically, I have shown how a new brain scanning method can detect the pathology of two important tauopathies, in vivo: PSP and Alzheimer’s disease. But, the distribution of pathology is very different between both groups and provides 100% discrimination,” said Vázquez Rodríguez. She is looking forward to presenting her work at other upcoming conferences.
Congratulations to both of them!
Written by Max Shinn.