Dr Matthew Livesey and Dr Ryan West are set to receive the funding to support their work looking at the toxic proteins involved in frontotemporal dementia, as part of a £2 million package from Alzheimer’s Research UK as part of Dementia Action Week (16-20 May).
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a relatively rare form of dementia, usually affecting people under 65, often causing personality and behavioural changes.
Many factors contribute to someone’s risk of develop FTD, with genetics playing a particularly important role.
The most common genetic cause of FTD is a change, called a mutation, in a gene known as C9ORF72. This mutation causes proteins called ‘dipeptide-repeats’ to clump up in the brain, ultimately leading to a loss of brain nerve cells.
Researchers believe that these repeats may disrupt the normal electrical activity of nerve cells, causing them to stop functioning and impacting the way our brain is able to perceive things and function.
Therefore, the research will look at the physical structure and health of nerve cells in fruit flies that produce these dipeptide repeats and observe the cells’ electrical signals. They will then compare this to people living with FTD.
Dr Matthew Livesey from the University of Sheffield said: “This Alzheimer’s Research UK pilot project aims to give insight into what physiological processes are disrupted by the build-up of toxic repeats sequences in the brain.
“Fruit flies are well suited for this type of study as around 75 per cent of the disease-causing genes in people are also found in flies.
“Their short life span also means we can look at how the activity of genes change over time as the flies age, speeding up the research process.
“This will increase our understanding of the causes of frontotemporal dementia and could identify potential new targets for treatments.”
Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the condition is not an inevitable part of getting older but the result of diseases that damage the brain.
He added: “Pioneering research underway in Sheffield is helping to unpick the complex causes of frontotemporal dementia and driving progress towards new treatments for people living with the condition.”