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Sharing data to speed up dementia research

By studying large groups of people over time, researchers are trying to spot early signs of diseases, including dementia. As large studies are huge undertakings it makes sense to check what’s already out there before setting up a new one – but this is no easy task. A new tool aims to help by collecting neurodegenerative disease cohort studies in one place. Professor Dag Aarsland, a leading dementia researcher, put the JPND Global Cohort Portal through its paces.

I study a specific type of dementia called dementia with Lewy bodies. Despite being the second most common form of neurodegenerative dementia, we know little about how it progresses. This information is important to inform diagnosis and research.

Collating existing data

In 2014, I led an international working group supported by the EU Joint Programme for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND). It focused on solving some of the challenges of using cohorts – studies involving large groups of people – for research on dementia with Lewy bodies.

Our working group agreed that we need to combine data, collected in past and existing cohort studies, to define criteria for early diagnosis of this common type of dementia. To do this, we need a full view of what data is already out there, something that the new JPND Global Cohort Portal offers.

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A new discovery means gene-targeting drugs could slow down the progression of Parkinson’s

Currently no treatments exist to slow down or stop Parkinson’s disease in patients. But eight years of research by a dedicated team at the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit in Dundee has brought us a step closer. Doctor and Research Fellow Maratul Muqit explains the thrill of revealing the inner workings of a specific enzyme in the brain, and why this could help towards developing future drugs for patients.

Over the last 10 years as a doctor specialising in Parkinson’s disease, I have been asked by my patients many times whether a cure was in sight. I used to struggle to answer that question with anything but ambivalence given the long list of failures of clinical trials in Parkinson’s. Read more

Can big data mend a broken heart?

Kirstin Leslie, MRC PhD student at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, is the 2017 winner of our Max Perutz Science Writing Award. In her award-winning article she explains how she’s trying to find out why people stop taking drugs prescribed for preventing heart disease, and why this matters.

“When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all”

That’s actually a quote from the TV show Futurama but it’s also a clear way of explaining why people are not always good at taking their medications. Imagine: you‘re taking a drug to prevent yourself from having a heart attack. But if you don’t feel any different after taking the drug, how can you know it’s even worked? Maybe you weren’t going to have a heart attack anyway? Maybe the drug you’re taking is giving you side-effects and besides, it isn’t worth it because you felt fine before. You don’t want to bother your doctor getting a new prescription and your blood pressure wasn’t that high anyway…So you stop taking your drugs and you hope for the best.

But heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. And it’s preventable.

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