News - 30th October 2018

Looking for clues to detect dementia early

This week we want to introduce you to Barking parkrunner and scientist Dr Amanda Heslegrave.


Amanda, who is a member of the parkrun 150 Club and whose husband, Chris, is a Run Director, works at the UK Dementia Research Institute at University College London. She’s involved in pioneering work looking for clues in blood and other samples to help detect dementia early.


As well as working in dementia research, she’s also supporting research by running the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon for the Dementia Revolution.


The one-year campaign for the marathon – a partnership of Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society – is aiming to raise £3.5m for the UK Dementia Research Institute, the most ambitious dementia research endeavour the UK has ever seen.


Here Amanda explains the importance of her work:


Our lab is involved in developing new biological tests that can give us important information about the diseases that cause dementia.


These biological measurements are called biomarkers and can take many different forms, but we are interested specifically in measurements from human body fluids such as blood and cerebrospinal fluid.


We compare fluid from people who have dementia and people who are healthy in order to discover important differences. This gives us clues as to what is happening in the brain to cause these diseases.


We also study fluids from people who we know are at risk of a disease due to very rare genetic mutations. This allows us to investigate the very earliest changes.


Studies have shown that the changes in the brain associated with dementia can start many years before symptoms. Better biomarkers will help us detect these early changes and when we have the right treatments, that brings the possibility of preventing disease before it starts.


Fluid biomarkers can also help us see if new treatments are working. We can use them to measure whether drugs are actually engaging with biological targets to reduce (or perhaps increase) levels of certain proteins, or reduce damage to brain cells.


I started my scientific career at a time when my grandmother was really quite ill with Parkinson’s disease and showing signs of dementia. I had no idea at that time that dementia was a part of so many neurodegenerative diseases or indeed that it really is not a normal part of ageing.


Now I am much more informed and my day to day inspiration is the people and their families who allow us to use their samples for research, in my eyes they really are heroes.


If you’ve been lucky enough to get a ballot place for the London Marathon, I’d love you to join me and run for the Dementia Revolution. To sign up click here.


Or you can sponsor me at

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