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The group was recently awarded a grant from the Medical Research Council to start a longitudinal study of frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

FTD is a relatively rare form of dementia that has a relatively young onset. It is caused by degeneration of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. The gradual cell death in these regions, and the pathways that connect them, results in marked changed to personality, behaviour and language that is characteristic of this form of dementia. Around one third of patients have a family history of the disease and mutations in three major genes are now known to be associated with FTD.

Our longitudinal study will comprehensively follow patients with FTD and their family members who have a genetic risk of developing FTD. We will be tracking changes in the structure and function of their brains over a period of 3 years. We will also monitor changes in neuropsychological and cognitive tests and track key markers in blood and cerebrospinal fluid. By studying patients and their family members we can not only track the progression of FTD, but also look for very early markers of the disease in people who have a known risk of developing it. Dementia is progressive and therefore it is very important to develop treatment that can intervene as early as possible to try to prevent or delay neurodegeneration.

Our study aims to find markers that can predict the development of FTD before any symptoms are present. These markers can then be used in clinical trials to develop new treatments. This approach has been successful in Alzheimer’s Disease, where changes in cognitive and physiological markers have been detected many years before symptoms are evident.

Our group will join an international collaboration of 27 centres across Europe and Canada called the Genetic Frontotemporal Dementia Initiative (GENFI). The international consortium combines expertise across all these centres and aims to work together to find the earliest markers of FTD.