Friday 4 March sees the fifth Plymouth Dementia Conference at the Guildhall in the city.
Each year has seen the event grow, not just in size but also in influence. This year is no exception, with a keynote speeches from Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, Hilary Duxford a member of the World Council for Dementia, and leading lights from the areas of dementia and travel, rural living, research and broadcasting.
It is all too easy to dismiss dementia as an issue we will never solve, and with an anticipated increase in the number of cases of 156 per cent between now and 2051 it is understandable that some see it as insurmountable.
But if the last five years has shown us nothing else, by chipping away at the problem in the laboratory, the clinic and society we are in a better position than we have been in the past – notwithstanding there is still an awful lot more to do.
At Plymouth University we are taking a lead in all three of those areas. We have scientists in our laboratories who are striving to understand the mechanisms of dementia, so that new drugs can be found or existing drugs repurposed to stop the disease or slow its progression. As such, we are lead institution for the Alzheimer’s Research UK South West Research Network.
Dr Oleg Anichtchik, for example, is investigating the role of proteins in the development of dementia.
The study relates to a condition called dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Lewy bodies are tiny deposits of protein in nerve cells and it is believed that they account for 15 to 30 per cent of all cases of dementia.
The protein is called alpha-synuclein and it is closely related to another protein, beta-synuclein. The research team will investigate whether and how interaction between the two proteins plays a role in preventing or slowing the build-up of alpha-synuclein.
The results will help the team better understand how protein deposits build up in the nerve cells. By understanding the mechanism, and how one protein may inhibit the other, there may in time be a way of using the mechanism as a means to treat DLB.
Meanwhile, in clinic, Dr Rupert Noad from Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust and Dr Craig Newman from Plymouth University are working to develop apps that will help clinicians to diagnose more patients more accurately for dementia. ACE Mobile is currently used in hospitals by consultant clinicians across the world. A component of that, Mini ACE, is under development and this will allow the app to be used by GPs. The more people who are assessed, the more early diagnoses can be achieved with all the benefits of proper care and treatment leading to better quality of life.