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Early-career researcher Dr Laura Winchester from the University of Oxford will build upon research exploring the link between iron and dementia.

A portrait of Dr Laura Winchester.

She will be using the Dementias Platform UK Data Portal to carry out her analyses for this project.

Previous research has demonstrated that people with Alzheimer’s disease have raised levels of iron in their brains. These high iron levels were associated with more pronounced cognitive decline, rather than affecting the biological protein mechanisms behind the disease – like amyloid-beta accumulation.

Amyloid-beta is a protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, 30% of people with high levels of amyloid-beta in their brains don’t have any symptoms of dementia. It is thought that the key to whether people develop symptoms or not could be the amount of iron in their brains.

Now, Dr Winchester is tracing the relationship back to ascertain whether the amount of iron in a person’s blood affects their risk of developing dementia. If it does, she will investigate the potential for doctors to use iron levels as an indicator of dementia, helping them to make more accurate diagnoses.

Dr Winchester has received £120,000 in funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK to carry out this research. During her three-year fellowship, Dr Winchester will use large datasets from the DPUK Data Portal to further our understanding of how fluctuating iron levels correspond to other brain changes that occur in the diseases that cause dementia.

Measurements of iron levels can be taken by blood tests, through our genes or even in brain scans. With the support of Dementias Platform UK, Dr Winchester will use sophisticated data analysis techniques to explore how these different measurements and changing iron levels may increase a person’s risk of dementia.

Of her exciting new research, Dr Winchester said: ‘My work will provide insights into the role of iron in the development of dementia. The research may also identify new ways to detect diseases and serve as a foundation for future studies to determine if lowering iron levels in the brain could prevent or treat the condition.’

The news comes during Dementia Action Week, the Alzheimer’s Society initiative that previously championed ‘awareness’ of dementia and has now switched its focus to ‘action’. While for individuals this action could mean learning more about dementia or supporting friends and family affected by dementia, for researchers it is a drive to accelerate the effort to find a cure for dementia.

Check out our blog detailing the actions you can take this Dementia Action Week.