’Dementia in a dish’ photo taken by UCL researcher wins research image competition

Bed of rosettes

Bed of rosettes

Dr Charlie Arber (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) has been named the winner of Alzheimer’s Society’s first ever research image competition, with a picture of brain cells grown from the skin of people with dementia.

The Spotlight on Dementia contest aimed to shine a light on crucial dementia research done by academics who are funded by the charity, and challenged them to showcase their work through creative images and video.  

Dr Arber’s research focuses on creating brain cells from the stem cells of those living with dementia. His image, named Bed of Rosettes, shows the halfway stage of this process.

The picture was taken with an ultra-strong camera, which has the ability to magnify cells 40 times. The camera takes hundreds of pictures a minute and allows UCL scientists to detect small changes in the brain cells of those with dementia compared against people without the disease.

Dr Arber said he was delighted to win the award and receive the trophy. Explaining his research, he said: "In layman terms, we are now able to grow human brain cells in a dish for the first time. This will allow us to understand how Alzheimer’s disease starts and progresses.

"Up until now, we could not work with brain cells because we cannot biopsy a person’s brain in case we damage it. A biopsy involves taking a small sample of body tissue, which can be taken from almost anywhere on or in your body.

"People with dementia donate part of their skin, from which we can create stem cells and turn them into brain cells. The brain cells we look at under the microscope have the same genes as their donor, so it allows us to investigate the consequences of gene changes that lead to inherited forms of dementia. We want to better understand how dementia develops.

"Alzheimer’s Society began supporting me three years ago. Getting to a stage where our work can bring about positive changes to people with dementia is a slow stage-by-stage process, as is the nature of most research but we are excited about making progress step by step. Research offers hope across dementia diagnosis, treatment, and care."

The judging panel, which included Tom Whipple, Science Editor at The Times, and people affected by dementia, chose Dr Arber’s photo because they felt it added colour to an important area of dementia research - trying to understand how dementia starts and how we can treat it. The image reminded them of Alzheimer’s Society’s forget-me-not logo - a symbol of remembrance.

Other entries in the competition explored topics such as detecting dementia using virtual reality, the impact of young-onset dementia on people’s careers, and the potential involvement of the brain’s immune system in the processes behind dementia.

Several UCL academics, including Dr Nuria Martin Flores (UCL Cell & Developmental Biology) and Dr Zeinad Abdi (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) also showcased their work in the gallery.

Dr Richard Oakley, Associate Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: "Spotlight on Dementia brings together science and art to reveal the wonder and variety of the research we fund. Each breath-taking entry tells a different story about the drive and enthusiasm of our stellar researchers working across dementia diagnosis, treatment and care.

"Alzheimer’s Society is a vital source of support and a powerful force for change for people with dementia. The charity only funds the most cutting-edge dementia research and currently we fund over 155 projects worth over £29.5m. We do this because we know research will beat dementia and improve the lives of people affected by the condition."

Image

Credit: Bed of Rosettes by Charlie Arber

Poppy Danby 

E: p.danby [at] ucl.ac.uk

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