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Melek Karadag-Assem is a research assistant on the DPUK-funded New Therapeutics in Alzheimer’s Disease (NTAD) and Synaptic Health in Neurodegeneration (SHINE) studies, based at the University of Cambridge. On World Alzheimer’s Day 2022, we spoke to Melek about her background, her work on NTAD and SHINE, and her plans for the future.

Melek Karadag-Assem
DPUK researcher Melek Karadag-Assem, who is based at the Cambridge Centre for Frontotemporal Dementia and Related Disorders

“I moved to the UK six years ago after doing my master’s in cognitive neuroscience at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language in San Sebastián. There, I focused specifically on using EEG scanning to study language processing in the brain.

When I started working at Cambridge, it was on a MEG-based language processing project involving the Cam-CAN cohort, which was set up to look at the mechanisms in the brain underpinning healthy ageing. That sparked my interest in dementia: what are the differences between a brain that ages normally and a brain in which something has gone wrong? It made sense to apply to work on the NTAD study because of its focus on Alzheimer’s disease and the variety of imaging techniques being used.

For NTAD I recruit participants, collect data, and do some of the data pre-processing. NTAD is a longitudinal study – that means we examine participants over an extended period of time – which aims to find sensitive, non-invasive markers of early Alzheimer’s disease in the brain, and to see how these markers progress over time.

We recruited 50 people in Cambridge at the start of the study and gave them MEG, MRI and PET scans, as well as taking blood and carrying out neuropsychological assessments. Participants were invited back one and two years later to monitor their progress, and I’m pleased to say we have just completed our last test. Although the pandemic made things tricky, we were able to follow 27 people for the full two years, which is great. The participants were a mixture of healthy ‘control’ subjects and people with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease recruited from local memory clinics.

An NTAD team in Oxford is doing the same thing, and eventually all the NTAD data will be available to the research community via the DPUK Data Portal. We’re also working with industry partners – AstraZeneca, Janssen and Lilly – who are particularly interested in this study because the disease biomarkers will help them test more quickly whether potential new treatments for Alzheimer’s are working.

SHINE is due to start soon: it’s similar to NTAD but will recruit new participants and use cutting-edge imaging techniques such as PET-MR to look at how the synapses in our brain are affected by neurodegenerative disease. I’m really excited to get started with SHINE. I love being involved in this type of research – especially being able to interact with the participants.”

Find out more about World Alzheimer’s Day.