Faculty of Medical Sciences

Staff Profile

Professor Alan Thomas

Professor of Old Age Psychiatry

Background

Present Appointment

Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at Newcastle University and Honorary Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust. 

Area of expertise

  • Dementia with lewy bodies
  • Late-life depression
  • Biomarkers

Other Appointments

  • Director of Brains for Dementia Research
  • Clinical Director of the Newcastle Human Brain Tissue Resource, Newcastle University
  • Academic Representative on Northern Region School of Psychiatry Board

Research

Main Research Interests:

 

i) Clinical studies in dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

We are running studies to improve the early detection and characterisation of DLB. A prospective study (SUPERB, funded by ARUK and supported by Newcastle NIHR BRC) focusses on detailed repeated assessment of early symptoms and several biomarkers of DLB with subjects being compared with age-matched controls and having given consent to brain tissue donation so we can finally gain definitive autopsy-informed diagnoses.

In a related programme we are investigating two key imaging biomarkers, dopaminergic imaging using SPECT FPCIT and myocardial scintigraphy using MIBG, in people with cognitive decline and dementia, comparing them with healthy older control subjects. This project is funded by a fellowship to Gemma Roberts by the Alzheimer's Society and aims to improve the accuracy and sensitivity of these imaging techniques.

A smaller study is examining the deposition of abnormal synuclein in the skin in DLB and to determine if skin biopsy may be a useful approach to early diagnosis. developing clinical instruments for improving the detection and assessment of key features of DLB and will be examining their utility in standard NHS settings.

We are also developing clinical instruments to improve the diagnosis and management of DLB funded by an NIHR Programme Grant (DIAMOND Lewy)

ii) The neuropathology of late-life depression

I continue with neuropathological studies in depression utilising our brain tissue from the Newcastle ‘Brain Bank’ and applying stereological and microarray techniques to explore the impact of vascular and inflammatory brain disease in late-life depression

iii) Brain Bank Studies in dementia with Lewy Bodies 

Within our NIHR BRU in Lewy Body Dementia we are conducting a series of related studies examining different components of the visual pathway in human brain tissue in order to identify molecular abnormalities that underpin visual hallucinations in DLB.

iv) Wider Dementia Research

As Director of Brains for Dementia Research I lead this national programme funded jointly by the Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Research UK. We have a cohort of >2500 people who are reviewed annually at one of our six centres (Newcastle, Bristol, London, Manchester, Cardiff and Oxford) using a wide range of clinical, behavioural and general health measures. All participants have agreed to brain tissue donation and so far over 700 people have donated brain tissue which is distributed to researchers from our participating brain banks.

I also contribute to several national trials in dementia, such as the MRC Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study, the NIHR HTA trial to improve behavioural disturbance in dementia (SYMBAD) and an NIHR HTA study to improve the management of depression in dementia.

Teaching

Medical Students: I teach formally in seminars and informally in clinical settings and am an OSCE and MOSLER examiner in finals examinations

 

Postgraduate: I teach and examine on the MRes Course (Module: Ageing and Health) and run a module (Introduction to Psychiatry) on the regional MRCPsych Course and teach lectures on this module, on the psychopharmacology of anti-dementia drugs (Neuroscience and Pharmacology Module) and on Vascular Dementia (on the Old Age Psychiatry module).

 

External: I lecture on the British Association of Psychopharmacology module on Old Age Psychiatry on the Management of Mood Disorders. 

Publications