Alzheimer's: innovative ways of detecting the disease
Christine Bastin (Fund for Scientific Research - FNRS, ULiège) has been awarded a 300,000 euros grant by Stop Alzheimer to help detect the first signs of Alzheimer's disease earlier, so that we can benefit from the effectiveness of current treatments.
In Belgium, one person in five, and up to one woman in three, will develop some form of dementia. Of the various manifestations of dementia, seven out of ten involve Alzheimer's disease. But the few existing treatments are only effective if the disease is diagnosed early. Christine Bastin, Fund for Scientific Research - FNRS Senior Research Associate at the GIGA CRC In vivo Imaging of the University of Liège (ULiège), is currently investigating new ways of detecting the disease at an early stage.
Analysis of two memory networks
Usually, to understand why people with Alzheimer's disease have memory problems, we try to link a specific memory problem to a precise location in the brain. However, we now know that our memory functions more like a network of connections between different parts of the brain, rather than via isolated areas.
Previous research has identified two networks in a part of the brain linked to memory: one of these networks seems to be specialised in remembering the precise details of events (for example, remembering buying bottles of Evian), while the other is more involved in remembering more general information (for example, remembering buying water).
Christine Bastin's research project aims to test these two types of memory and check how these two networks function in the brain during normal ageing and in Alzheimer's disease. The aim is to develop specific tests to assess these different types of memory, which could help detect the first signs of Alzheimer's disease earlier so that we can benefit from the effectiveness of current treatments.
To carry out this research, and with the support of the King Baudouin Foundation, Chistine Bastin has received a grant of 300,000 euros from Stop Alzheimer, the Alzheimer's Research Foundation.
About Christine Bastin
Christine Bastin obtained a degree in psychological sciences (neuropsychology) from the University of Liège in 1999. She completed her PhD thesis under the supervision of Professor Martial Van der Linden and then continued her research in the Cognitive Sciences Department of the Faculty of Psychology, Logopaedics and Educational Sciences (ULiège) on the subject of the functioning of episodic memory in normal ageing and amnesia. She joined Professor Éric Salmon's team at the Cyclotron Research Centre (ULiège) in January 2007, and since then has been studying memory disorders in neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment, fronto-temporal dementia), as well as in normal ageing. Her work also focuses on the brain underpinnings of episodic memory, using functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. Christine Bastin is currently a senior research associate at the Fund for Scientific Research - FNRS within the GIGA CRC In vivo Imaging (ULiège), Aging & Memory research group.
In a few words, what is your research project for Stop Alzheimer's about?
Christine Bastin: "The most typical form of Alzheimer's disease begins with memory difficulties. One of the challenges for neuropsychologists is to distinguish between the memory problems that characterise the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and the memory problems caused by normal ageing. This is the aim of this project. To do this, we are drawing on the most recent knowledge of how memory works and how it is organised in the brain. The key brain regions for memory are involved in two networks. One network enables us to remember events with precision and detail, while the other is involved in remembering the meaning or general form of an event. The hypothesis we are going to test is that, in normal ageing, memory for details is lost but is compensated for by a very good memory for the general form. Conversely, in Alzheimer's disease, both forms of memory are affected, and the general memory network is particularly disrupted. To assess this, we are going to create original memory tasks and combine the analysis of memory profiles with measurements of the functioning of brain networks using magnetic resonance imaging in elderly people with no cognitive problems and people suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The project should therefore make it possible to refine the neuropsychological tests used to detect the early memory loss that heralds Alzheimer's disease.