Newcastle University

Our second grant for 2018/19 is for a project which aims to develop a new test for Lewy body dementia.

Project name

Developing biomechanical methods to detect dementia with Lewy bodies

Project team

Dr Marzena Kurzawa-Akanbi, Dr Christopher Morris, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University (more information here)

Prof Phil Whitfield, University of the Highlands and Islands (more information here)

Aim of the study

This study aims to design a cerebrospinal fluid test to help diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies.

Description of the study

Dementia with Lewy bodies is underdiagnosed and differentiating it from Alzheimer’s disease is very challenging. There are a number of identifiable symptoms that allow doctors to accurately diagnose DLB in many cases. However, where a patient has different symptoms, or the doctor is inexperienced in identifying DLB, it can easily be missed.

A ‘biomarker’ is a measurable indicator of some biological state or condition, and is used by doctors to help diagnose a patient with a particular disease. The identification of biomarkers in body fluids for the accurate and early diagnosis of DLB is urgently needed and this study aims to develop a test of a patient’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that will identify the presence of the disease.

Dementia with Lewy bodies is characterised by the accumulation in the brain of a protein called alpha-synuclein. The applicants’ previous research has indicated that the metabolism of specialised fats known as ceramides is changed in the brains of DLB patients compared to healthy individuals. They also found that in post-mortem cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, the fluid that bathes the brain) from DLB patients, ceramides are altered compared to CSF from healthy individuals. Importantly, they discovered that these ceramide changes might be found in people with early Lewy body changes which might indicate that a person can be identified before they develop symptoms. These results strongly suggest that analysis of CSF in DLB could be used as a biomarker of the disorder.

To test the diagnostic value of these findings, the researchers will test a large number of cerebrospinal fluid samples from DLB patients and healthy individuals for both lipid abnormalities and alpha-synuclein. They will also test post-mortem samples from other closely related disorders to confirm that their findings are specific to DLB patients.