New projects to improve dementia detection

The University of Manchester is to lead a new project to detect dementia earlier and in greater detail than ever before with improvements to MRI scanning.

Dementia is estimated to account for 1% of global GDP with 35 million sufferers around the world.  This number is likely to quadruple by 2050, meaning that more efficient detection methods and new treatments are essential.

The new funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will enable the University to take part in three projects all aimed at early detection.

One, worth over £1 million will focus on improvements to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET).  Led by Professor Geoff Parker, the team from the Centre for Imaging Sciences within the University’s Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences will modify scanning and image analysis methods to be to be sensitive to two important microscopic aspects of dementia.

The researchers will develop and test new methods for measuring the loss of brain cells due to the condition. This loss is the cause of many of the symptoms of dementia, such as memory problems, and they hope to be able to detect these changes earlier than has previously been possible. They will also work on new methods for measuring changes in blood delivery to the brain and how this can affect oxygen delivery.

These changes are thought to be part of one of the important processes involved in causing cell death and tissue loss, and are likely to be particularly relevant to vascular dementia.

Professor Parker said: “Successful management of patients with dementia is helped significantly by early and accurate diagnosis. Imaging methods such as MRI and PET are already used in the diagnostic process, but we believe that there is substantial scope for both methods to be improved to provide more precise and sensitive diagnostic information, and to do so in a way that is easily tolerated by patients.

“If we are correct then the methods we develop within this project will not only help in early diagnosis, but may also help in the discovery of new therapies and, in the longer term, with helping doctors select the best therapeutic strategies for patients with different forms of dementia.”

The University will also be involved in project led by Lancaster University to develop eye scanners which can be used at home to spot some of the early signs of dementia – with the aim of reducing costs and the time that patients need to spend at a hospital.

Professor Parker will also be working on a project led by the University of Sheffield which is using MR scans to identify changes in the way that blood moves through the brain during the onset of dementia.

Announcing the round of funding, Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: “The UK faces a huge challenge over the coming decades, we have an aging population and a likely rise in the numbers of people suffering from dementias.  These research projects will improve our abilities to detect and understand dementias and how the disease progresses.”

This announcement follows a further funding announcement for imaging at Manchester by George Osborne on 23 October, and the awarding of Cancer Imaging Centre status to the University last year by Cancer Research UK and the EPSRC.

Notes for editors

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