Research

Tackling Dementia

Tackling Dementia

Researchers and clinicians specialising in dementia research at Newcastle University, have developed a new brain imaging technique to identify dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), a condition affecting over 4 million people worldwide.

Professor Ian McKeith leads research that resulted in the first diagnosis and treatment of DLB.

Dementia devastates the lives of 36 million people worldwide and costs $315 billion in healthcare, and DLB is now known to be the second most frequent cause of degenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

Little more than a decade ago the disease was relatively unknown and those affected by it were often treated with drugs that could worsen their unpleasant symptoms, or even prove fatal.

Tackling dementia
Photo of Professor Ian McKeith
VIDEO: Tackling Dementia

Breakthrough treatment

Until the team at Newcastle University developed a new brain imaging technique to identify DLB, the mental symptoms of sufferers – such as memory loss and confusion – were often mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease, while the motor symptoms, including gait and slowness of movement, were mistaken for Parkinson’s disease.

Alistair Burns, National Clinical Director for Dementia commented "The basic science and cutting-edge translational research carried out at Newcastle University highlighted the benefits of diagnosis of DLB and of the cholinesterase drugs, each of which has had significant influence on clinical practice."

The breakthrough came when the team identified that cholinesterase inhibitors (CHEIs), a class of drug originally developed for use in Alzheimer’s disease, would be of greater benefit in DLB and also in Parkinson’s disease dementia.

‌The research has been published in:

  • The Lancet
  • The Lancet Neurology
  • BMJ
  • Neurology

CHEIs are now recommended in national and international guidelines for the cognitive and psychiatric symptoms associated with both of these conditions which previously had no effective treatment.

Revolutionised lives

Professor McKeith explains: “The DaTSCAN brain imaging technique developed in collaboration with GE Healthcare for use in dementia diagnosis, and the class of drug that we were the first to test in a large, placebo-controlled, randomised trial, are now in use around the world.

These have revolutionised the lives of patients. For the first time, we are able to manage symptoms such as cognitive failure, hallucinations, apathy and anxiety.

We have come a long way in our understanding of this debilitating and distressing condition. The momentum we have created has enabled us to establish world class facilities at Newcastle University. In collaboration with other international groups, we are now using our tissue resource to investigate why brain cells become dysfunctional. We are also planning to take part in the first trials to arrest the disease process.”

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Contact Information

Professor Ian McKeith
Email: ian.mckeith@ncl.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 1313

 

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