Cognitive functions and interhemispheric transfer in Alzheimer's

A team of scientists at the University of Leeds has been awarded nearly £30,000 of funding by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. The investment will allow the team to investigate brain changes in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s, helping to improve early detection of the disease.

  • Principal investigator:
  • Dr Jean-Francois Delvenne
  • Co-investigators:
  • Dr Mel Burke
  • Research Assistant:
  • Brian Scally

Memory loss is the most well-known symptom of Alzheimer’s, but there are other changes in the brain that lead to difficulties with thinking and communication. The brain is divided into two halves that communicate with each other through a structure called the corpus callosum. Information that comes into the right half of the brain, for example through our eyes, is transferred to the left half, and vice versa. In people with Alzheimer’s, the corpus callosum is damaged, but it is not yet known how this affects communication between the two sides of the brain. Understanding this in more detail will help researchers to build a bigger picture of what happens in the brain in Alzheimer’s and how to detect these changes earlier.

The Leeds-based researchers aim to measure communication between the two halves of the brain in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – a condition characterised by early memory and thinking problems that can put people at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. They will compare those volunteers with MCI to people of the same age with no memory problems.

Dr Jean-Francois Delvenne, who will be leading the research at the University of Leeds, said: “By looking at brain changes between these two groups, we hope to learn more about what happens in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s. We predict that changes in the brain in people with MCI will slow the time it takes for signals to pass across the brain, compared to those without the condition. This could explain why some of the early symptoms of the disease develop.

“This generous funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK will allow us to run a study with local volunteers to get a better idea of how these changes in the brain can lead to difficulties in memory and thinking. Distinguishing the early stages of Alzheimer’s from normal ageing can be very challenging, and it can be hard for doctors to give an accurate diagnosis. We hope that by understanding the changes that occur at the beginning of Alzheimer’s, we may be able to develop techniques to help detect the condition in its earliest stages.”

Dr Laura Phipps, Science Communications Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It will be really interesting to follow the progress of this year-long study. Improving the accuracy and timeliness of diagnosis means that people can get access to support, information and appropriate treatments. Studies like this, which give us a greater understanding of the initial stages of Alzheimer’s, are also important for designing clinical trials of new treatments to give them the best chance of success. Over 820,000 people in the UK are living with Alzheimer’s, including 25,000 people in West Yorkshire alone, so continued investment in research is vital.”