I work at the UK Dementia Research Institute and am based at Imperial College London. My research investigates the underlying processes of how and why people get dementia. This involves looking at the how factors including both our genetics and our lifestyle behaviours have an impact on our health and disease. Some of these factors can be controlled by us, for example what we eat and whether we smoke. However, other factors – including the genes we inherit from our parents – are beyond our control. My research looks at how all these influencing factors combine and interact together to either increase or decrease the chance of an individual getting dementia.
One of my particular areas of research involves looking at the health of our gut and the diversity of bacteria that normally live there. Current estimates suggest that there are more bacterial cells in our gut than there are of our own cells in our entire body, so researchers think that that they could play a big role in our health across our lifetime. Many of the effects that these bacteria have on our bodies are believed to be good for us, but some could make us ill. Some bacteria are even known to release chemicals that create signals provoking a response in our brains. My work investigates these specific chemicals to see if they could affect the processes that lead to dementia.
This research is important for two main reasons. First, if we can work out if and why gut bacteria release chemicals that influence our brain health, this could help to explain why some people develop dementia while others have healthy brains until old age. Secondly, if we identify which bacteria are protecting or hurting our brain health, then we can develop treatments to control the ‘bad’ bacteria and encourage the ‘good’, helping to keep our brains healthy throughout life.
I was inspired to pursue a career in dementia research as unfortunately I saw firsthand how devastating the disease can be as my grandfather, Lionel, had vascular dementia. It was not only his deterioration in health that was difficult to watch, but also the impact the disease had on our family and friends. This drove me to begin a career in dementia research and I hope that one day my research will make a real difference to those affected by the disease. I now feel privileged to be a part of the UK Dementia Research Institute and work with the best scientists from around the world.
This is now an exciting time for my research field, especially within the UK dementia research community. I’m surrounded by team members with expertise from lots of different backgrounds, and we’re all linking up and working together to tackle dementia like never before. For example, our research now involves analytical scientists, microbiologists, statisticians, geneticists and epidemiologists. We’re bringing all of this together to help us get an overall picture of health and dementia.
That is why the Dementia Revolution is so important. The money raised will be invested into the UK Dementia Research Institute, helping scientific research teams like the one I work in. With more research funding we can research dementia in new ways and with better more cutting-edge technologies. This will improve our understanding of the disease and make a real difference to people affected by dementia.