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Scottish Dementia Research Consortium (SDRC) publishes annual report

Update from The Scottish Dementia Research Consortium (SDRC)

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The Scottish Dementia Research Consortium (SDRC) has published its annual report celebrating Scotland’s dementia and brain health research, across all disciplines, from the past 12 months.

We were particularity please to see the work of a number of early career researchers being highlighted.

Download The Report Here
Expand to find out more about the Early Career Researchers Featured in the report

Angela Gregory

I joined the Alzheimer Scotland Centre for Policy and Practice (ASCPP) as a PhD student at the University of the West of Scotland in August 2019. My studentship is jointly funded by Erskine Care and Alzheimer Scotland. After graduating with a first-class Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Three-Dimensional Crafts in 2000, I set up my own business working as a community Freelance Artist/Educator. I then completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Arts and Cultural Heritage in 2003. After the death of my mum in 2013, I decided to combine my love of creative ‘doing’, and passion for empowering people to live (as opposed to merely exist) by re-training as an Occupational Therapist. I achieved a distinction in Master of Science, Health through Occupation in 2014 where my love of research was sparked. After working for five years in various settings as an Occupational Therapist, I decided to embark on a PhD. My PhD research will explore meaning in activity with people with advanced dementia, their families and care home staff via an action research, arts-based, embodied and sensory approach. I see myself becoming specialised in using arts-informed action research with people with advanced dementia and integrating this knowledge into clinical practice, education and care establishments.


Martha Pollard

I am currently undertaking a PhD studentship funded by the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at University of Edinburgh. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and an MSc and PhD in Public Health Sciences, focusing on the epidemiology of cardiovascular disease. From there I moved to cognitive ageing research in the Lothian Birth Cohort studies and lectured in psychology from 2001-2009. During this time, many unpaid carers of people living with dementia told me of their difficulties of finding the care they needed. Stepping out of academia, I took up agency care work. I then moved into emotional and social support roles in the charity sector, where I developed friendship groups and creative engagement with people living with dementia and carers in programmes at the Eric Liddell Centre. I also volunteered as a befriender with Alzheimer Scotland. Looking to deepen my emotional support work, I started training as a counsellor in 2016 and am on course to qualify this year. My current PhD studentship fits ideally with my urge to contribute to understanding of, and insights into living with dementia. My current research is in conjunction with the Edinburgh Centre for Research on the Experience of Dementia (ECRED), also at the University of Edinburgh. I am exploring dementia and freedom in psychiatric settings (specialist dementia units), from four perspectives: people living with dementia; unpaid carers/family members; medical/social care staff, and chaplains. My aim is for closer integration of my community based, counselling and academic work, all focused on ways to maximise freedom and flourishing for people living with dementia and carers: and for everyone.


Jennifer Waymont

I am a final-year PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen, working towards a PhD in Medical Imaging. Prior to this, I obtained a BSc in Psychology with Clinical and Health Psychology, an MSc in Psychological Research, and a further MSc in Neuroimaging, all at Bangor University in North Wales. My PhD title is ‘Automated detection and analysis of life-course determinants of brain white matter hyperintensities in healthy ageing and in Alzheimer’s Disease’. White matter hyperintensities (WMH) are a common brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) finding in older adults, arising from advancing age and cardiovascular risk factors, and contributing to cognitive decline, dementia, stroke, and death. This project has included validating an open-source algorithm to detect WMH, exploring risk factors for, and outcomes of, increased WMH burden in later-life, and better understanding the association between WMH and Alzheimer’s Disease (including exploring potential pharmaceutical interventions to reduce WMH burden). I aim to complete my PhD in the coming months, after which I hope to continue to pursue a career in academia. I am interested in further exploring how life-course psychosocial and lifestyle factors influence brain health in later-life. I am especially passionate about early-intervention, risk reduction, and prevention of diseases that cause dementia.

 


Juan Varela

My academic background is a mixture of physics, nanomedicine and neuroscience. I was initially trained in experimental physics in Uruguay and did my PhD in nanomedicine in Ireland. I am now a Principal Investigator at University of St Andrews, funded by a European Research Starting Grant. As my interest in neuroscience became stronger, I moved to France with a Marie Curie fellowship where I developed new strategies to study living brain tissue at the nanoscale. I subsequently took up another post-doctorate role in Cambridge working on optical methods to study protein aggregates involved in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2018 I started my own laboratory in St Andrews. My lab studies the way small protein aggregates involved in neurodegeneration are cleared from the extracellular space of the brain, as well as the interactions of these aggregates with receptors in neurones. Understanding the basic physiology of the extracellular space of the brain has been very challenging due to the lack of biophysical methods able to study such a complex space shaped at the nanoscale. It is for this reason that we are developing new optical methods that are suitable to undertake these challenges. I aim to understand how the extracellular space of the brain influences the development of
neurodegenerative diseases. Once we understand the basic physiology and what goes wrong in neurodegeneration we will be able to design strategies to improve clearance of toxic protein.


Clarisse de Vries

I started my academic career in 2015 during my MSc in Medical Physics. During the final MSc project, I investigated the relationship between the klotho gene, brain structure and survival in the ageing brain. My interest in science was sparked, and I embarked on a four-year PhD. I continued with my work on the klotho gene,
which led to two publications. I also worked on a measure of brain complexity, extracted from brain activations. I found that motion causes artefacts in brain complexity maps. I also found that women had greater brain complexity than men in the frontal lobe, and that brain complexity decreased with age in several regions located deep in the brain. In addition, I created a user-friendly interface so that other researchers will be able to use the complexity measures I have developed. I submitted my PhD thesis last September, and passed my viva/oral examination on the 16th of December. I have just started my new role as an iCAIRD Radiology Imaging Research Fellow, iCAIRD stands for Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research. It is a Scotland-wide project which aims to employ artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare to aid diagnoses and alleviate NHS shortages. I am currently working on developing and implementing AI systems focussed on applications for the brain. My aspirations are to continue my research into brain health and the effects of brain ageing, and to improve scientists’ and the public’s understanding of the brain.


Krista Winkler

I completed my MSc in Clinical Trials in November 2019. My dissertation centred on the public’s current perception of dementia and dementia research. I developed an expert-validated questionnaire to gather data on the public’s experience with dementia, their knowledge of dementia as a disease, their perception of dementia research, and their concerns (if any) regarding data collection during studies. I am now working on publishing my Master’s thesis as an article. A few months ago I moved to the south of Germany. This area is a hot spot for pharmaceutical companies and research companies. I hope to work with clinical trials and advance my research in the areas of dementia and cancer in particular. I am now on maternity leave. I have most recently worked at a wholesale pharmaceutical company in Berlin, while reading in parallel for my Master’s degree part-time via distance learning at the University of Edinburgh. Prior to this, I graduated from the B.Pharm course in Malta in 2011, my Bachelor’s thesis abstract was published in the journal Rheumatology. I hope to use my time on maternity leave for academic purposes and would also be open to more academic research in the future if opportunities arise.


Luisa Parkinson

I am in my second year of my PhD in the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, investigating environmental risk factors for dementia. Prior to this I gained my undergraduate degree in Veterinary Medicine and Physiology at the University of Cambridge and worked both in first opinion practice and clinical research. Dementia is a complex condition, with genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors all playing a role in whether an individual develops it. There is also a variation in your risk of developing dementia based on where you live. My project aims to explore the amount of this geographic variation that is explained by environmental factors and whether the effects of environmental factors are stronger in a specific life period, such as childhood, or are cumulative over a lifetime. I am currently investigating how different spatiotemporal modelling methods affect the results of an analysis using data on deaths with dementia in Scotland. The aim is to better understand how arbitrary modelling decisions influence the results and how best to minimise these effects to ensure that the results are robust. There are several areas where legislators feel that the evidence linking environmental factors to dementia is currently insufficient to allow them to bring in new policies. If my PhD project could add to the evidence and help to get legislation in place to reduce the risk of developing dementia for future generations, that would be a fantastic outcome.


Suzanne Gray

I am currently a mental health nurse lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, Paisley. My professional interests include the mental and physical well-being of older adults, professional issues and evidence-based practice. Having had over 30 years’ experience as a mental health nurse, latterly supporting younger people with dementia, I achieved an MSc in Dementia Studies from Stirling University and decided to move into an academic role and undertake further study at doctoral level regarding one of the most challenging clinical issues I had encountered whilst supporting younger people with dementia. I am a Clinical Doctorate student in the Faulty of Health Sciences and Sport at the University of Stirling. My study aims to investigate the experiences of living with a diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) from the perspective of the person and to identify factors which help and hinder the person living well with FTD, in order to inform clinical practice. The data consists of 13 semi-structured interviews of 7 people with a diagnosis of FTD. Participants were recruited via third sector services across central Scotland. An interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) approach was adopted and themes have emerged. They are diagnosis, assessment and support; experience of support throughout the journey; the changing self; challenges of living with FTD; strategies for living; someone there. Currently, I am writing the draft thesis and hope to be able to submit by the end of 2020. In the future, I am hoping to continue to build upon my current research and strengthen networks with others in order to collaborate in future research projects.


Highlights:

  • In 2019, there were around 50 grant awards totalling just over £20m received by Scottishbased dementia and brain health researchers.
  • Scotland has been awarded 270 grants totalling £113 million of funding over the past 5 years.
  • Scotland has employed 721 active dementia researchers over the last five years & 148 PhD students across all disciplines of dementia research.
  • In 2019 there were 296 Scottish-based researchers that have either contributed to a research paper or been part of a grant award related to dementia and brain health.
  • In 2019, there were a total of 362 collaborations with 252 researchers across 33 countries.
  • The 2019 the SDRC conference was the biggest yet attended by around 200 members.
  • In 2019 SDRC collaborated with the Scottish Neurological Research Fund (SNRF), and administered over £130,000 in grant awards.

The SDRC is open to everyone who is taking part or is interested in dementia and brain health research. There are many benefits to being an SDRC member. These include:

  • Invitations to attend members only events to discuss dementia research
  • Linking and networking with other members
  • Opportunities to showcase your research and current projects to a wide audience
  • Gain career advice from world leading dementia researchers

If you would like to become a member, please visit www.sdrc.scot/join

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