Turning the spotlight on dementia with some stunning images

Images and videos which shine a light on crucial dementia research have been released today by the Alzheimer’s Society, showingcasing their work in their first ever research image competition.

By 2025, it is estimated that one million people will be living with the condition in the UK, and many millions more carers, partners, families and friends will be affected.

‘Spotlight on Dementia’ challenges researchers funded by the charity to showcase their vital work through creative images and video. This year, entries explored diverse 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.

Dr Charlie Arber, a stem cell researcher from University College London, took home the winning prize for his entry ‘Bed of Rosettes’ which shows a group of stem cells, called a neural rosette, turning into brain cells.

Arber said: “Alzheimer’s Society funding has allowed me to develop my work using stem cells to understand how dementia starts and I’m thrilled to win the first Spotlight on Dementia competition. Research offers hope across dementia diagnosis, treatment and care, and I hope This competition will help bring more funding opportunities and new people to the dementia research community.”

Bed of Rosettes – Overall winner

Researchers use stem cells – cells which don’t have a special function yet – to grow human brain cells in a dish. This process can help to understand how dementia starts. This flower-like picture shows a neural rosette – a group of cells which are halfway to becoming brain cells. The green strands are cells turning into brain cells around the edges of the rosette. Photo by Dr Charlie Arber/UCL

Things are looking up

Tree branches and tau branches brain

The picture on the left was taken looking up within The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland, and the right taken down the microscope, looking at cells too small to conceptualise – allowing us to marvel at the wonders of the universe, both big and small. The right image shows a beautiful network of extensions of tau – a type of protein that malfunctions in Alzheimer’s disease – which looks very similar to the tree branches on the left. Photo by Kirsten Williamson/University of Southampton.

Lighting up the fly brain

Fly brain

Age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Surprisingly, short-lived animals like fruit flies age in many of the same ways as humans, just more quickly. This makes fruit flies useful for researchers to study the ageing brain. In this beautiful image, blue colors show all the cells of the brain. The pink and yellow colors show the build-up of toxic proteins, similar to the amyloid proteins that build up in human brains. Researching the brain of a fly can help to show why these proteins build up and whether new drugs could allow the brain to clear away the proteins through the brain’s own ‘rubbish disposal’ and ‘recycling programmes’. Photo by Dr Nathan Woodling/UCL

virtual smile

VR headset

Many researchers are starting to use Virtual Reality as a tool to detect and diagnose dementia earlier. Using VR in real-life clinical settings could be a more engaging assessment experience for the patient. Diagnosing dementia as early as possible is so important to give people access to the best support and treatment. Photo by Coco Newton/University of Cambridge.

More image galleries on Science Focus:

Losing connections

Synapses connect two nerve cells together and allow electric currents to pass between them. Losing synapses next to amyloid plaques happens to people with Alzheimer’s disease, and causes memory and thinking problems. The synapses are labeled red and green here in a mouse brain, and are next to an amyloid plaque in blue. Photo by Dr Nuria Martin-Florens/Professor Patricia C Salina/University College London.

The Virgin Maria watched over me

Virgin Mary images

While researching dementia care in Andalusia, Spain, photographer Chloe Place was surprised by how spirituality was creatively used in everyday dementia care. The care home she visited was covered in local Virgin Mary saint statues and other Catholic symbols. Staff deliberately included spiritual rituals into their activities programme, such as workshops for residents to decorate a large crucifix. These symbols are everywhere in Andalusian society so can still be recognised by some people with advanced dementia, giving them comfort. Photo by Chloe Place/University of Exeter.

Tangled

Brain cell connections

This tree-like structure is actually a brain cell in the hippocampus – a region of the brain involved in memory and learning. Synapses – gaps in-between nerve cells which connect them together – are shown in green, and the red areas show a protein called tau. Photo by Kirsty Hamilton/University of Dundee.

Sky of the brain

Tau proteins are naturally found in the brain and have a role in giving stability to brain cells. But the altered forms of tau can build up and clump together, forming ‘tangles’ in the brain, which researchers think are linked to dementia. The green spots in this image are mutant human tau proteins, generated in a mouse brain, in an area known to be affected by dementia in a human brain. Photo by Dr Barbara Sarkany/University of Oxford.

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