University of Cambridge researcher’s winning photograph is putting a spotlight on dementia

A winning photo captured by a Cambridge researcher is part of a gallery released by the Alzheimer’s Society’s first research image competition.

Coco Newton’s image selected for Alzheimer’s Society first photographic exhibition. Picture: Keith Heppell

Spotlight on Dementia, which highlights dementia research, challenges researchers funded by the charity to showcase their work through creative images and video.

Among the selection submitted is an image showing a woman wearing a virtual reality headset that is titled Virtual Smile. Taken by Cambridge researcher Coco Newton, it won the Detective Work category.

Coco’s image portraying her work using virtual reality (VR) in a study looking at the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

Coco, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, said: “Alzheimer’s Society funding has enabled me to study an area of ​​our brain which controls our navigation abilities, using VR technology, to examine and detect early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease much sooner than currently possible.

“Evidence suggests that this area, located at the bottom of our brain, can be the first affected by the disease. It has been associated with basic memory such as remembering events but a parallel body of research has shown there is a special type of brain cells that respond to spatial information, like how far away you are from a landmark or in what direction you’ve been Traveling

Coco Newton's winning photo
Coco Newton’s winning photo

“Because those cells are specifically in the area of ​​the brain that Alzheimer’s disease starts, we are looking to pick up changes in behavior much earlier than with other tests which don’t specifically target those regions.

“I’m trying to find new ways to detect the disease earlier than we currently can with the standard pen and paper memory tests that you’d get if you go to the GP when you think you’ve got memory problems. I use virtual reality because I think that we should be testing navigation instead of memory. It’s things like how you remember where you left your keys last night, for example. The only way we can test that is with virtual reality, because we need to be able to control people can see.”

She added: “I wanted my picture to communicate that my participants absolutely loved the experience of using virtual reality. I’ve managed to recruit 100 people onto my study, through a collaboration with University College London and the PREVENT Dementia Program, over three years.”

There were four category winners and an overall winner of the image competition, awarded to Dr Charlie Arber, a stem cell researcher from University College London. His entry, Bed of Rosettes, shows a group of stem cells, called a neural rosette, becoming brain cells.

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 breathtaking entry tells a different story about the drive and enthusiasm of our stellar researchers working across dementia diagnosis, treatment and care.”

For merchandise featuring the images, visit

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