Dr Sarah Ryan began her talk with some biographical details about her career and how she became a Research Associate in the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology at the University of Manchester, specialising in Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration.
According to www.dementiastsistics.org there are about 850,000 people suffering from dementia in the UK. One is more likely to get it as one gets older. Notable people with dementia include Terry Pratchet and Robbie Williams. Dementia is an umbrella term covering a number of different diseases: Alzheimer’s accounts for 50-75% of sufferers, Vascular Dementia 20-30%, Lewy Body Dementia 10-25% and Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) 10-15%.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory problems, getting lost in familiar places, and difficulty recognising people and things. Vascular Dementia sufferers have problems with planning /organising, making decisions or solving problems. In Lewy Body Dementia patients may have movement difficulties, problems with attention/alertness, hallucinations and Sleep disturbance. Frontotemporal dementia is characterised by personality changes and difficulties in communicating.
The differences are because different parts of the brain are affected. In Alzheimer’s one of the first parts of the brain to be affected is the hippocampus but it is a progressive condition that gradually destroys connections between cells in the brain. In Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) damage to the frontal lobe will show up on an MRI scan and the sufferer will suffer personality changes possibly becoming, rude or lazy or naughty. Some patients have FTD with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and this is usually fatal in 2 to 5 years. There are no good treatments for either FTD or MND.
Working at the microscopic level researchers in the laboratory investigate how the proteins are different in a Dementia brain from a normal one. This can only be done after death. Brains are sectioned and slides prepared. Sarah showed pictures of a section of brain with FTD and one without, showing TDP -43, the major disease protein FTD.
Sarah has a special interest in FTD caused by genetic mutation transcription, in particular C9orf72 found in frontal cortex brain tissue in sufferers. Human cells are grown in a dish and experiments carried out such as the effects of drug treatments. Experiments can also be carried out on mice or Fruit flies.
Sarah supports Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) and a small fee for the talk was donated directly to ARUK.