A SCOTTISH dementia expert has been awarded a major national prize for her research into the debilitating condition.

Dr Amy Lloyd, from the University of Dundee, has received the Jean Corsan prize by the country’s leading dementia research charity Alzheimer’s Research UK for the best scientific paper by an early-career researcher.

The prize is ordinarily presented at Alzheimer’s Research UK’s annual Research Conference, however, this has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In light of this, Dr Lloyd has joined other scientists to share her work as part of a virtual conference on social media, ensuring scientific understanding about dementia continues to grow worldwide.


Dementia affects around 90,000 Scots

The Academic will receive a £2,000 personal prize, supported by the Jean Corsan Foundation, for her pioneering research into the brain’s resident immune cells, known as microglia.

Having completed her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Lloyd now lives in the City of Discovery and conducts her research in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee.

Dementia is not a natural part of the ageing process, and is caused by progressive neurological disease processes which affect the brain.

The condition has a host of symptoms, which may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, language, sensory changes, and behaviour.

Dr Lloyd's prize-winning research paper shows how microglia can contribute to damage in diseases like Alzheimer’s.

In healthy brains microglia act like vacuum cleaners, removing waste produced normally in the brain as well as the toxic proteins that build-up in Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

This process is vital for protecting nerve cells from damage.

However, microglia can also become overactive and cause harmful inflammation that damages nerve cells in the brain.

Dr Lloyd’s research paper shows that for the brain to recover from damage, overactive microglia need to die so that more helpful microglia can move in and carry out their job.

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When this process of microglia death goes wrong, it leads to harmful levels of brain inflammation and contributes to diseases that cause dementia.

The brain’s immune system is seen as the new frontier in tackling neurodegenerative diseases and this process is now being explored as a treatment option for diseases like multiple sclerosis.


The research could pave the way to new treatments

Dr Lloyd has also been featured in an Alzheimer’s Research UK blog post on how carrying out this pioneering research has positively impacted her career and the key to her success.

Dr Lloyd said: “The brain’s immune system is complex, with microglia acting as both a critical defence mechanism and a key driver of damage to the brain.

“With the state-of-the-art facilities here in Dundee, I have the chance to thoroughly investigate microglia, and better understand how they contribute to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“Winning the Jean Corsan prize is the highlight of my career so far. As soon as I heard I rang my mum. It’s an honour to receive this award by Alzheimer’s Research UK.”

It is estimated that around 90,000 people in Scotland are currently living with dementia. Approximately 3,500 under the age of 65 have some form of dementia - known as 'early-onset' dementia.

The chance of developing dementia increases with age. One in 14 people over 65 – and one in six people over 80 – has dementia. The illness is more common among women than men.

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Research by Alzheimer Europe has warned that rates could surge over the next three decades as more people live longer.

The Herald has partnered with Alzheimer Scotland to launch a campaign aimed at ending the disparity in care costs between those footing the bill for specialist dementia nursing care and those suffering from other terminal illnesses.

Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said, “Making new breakthroughs in understanding the complex causes of diseases that cause dementia requires dedication and innovative thinking.

“It’s great that we have young, inspiring researchers in Scotland working on changing people’s lives.”