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Scientist focus: Ashwin Venkataraman

Dr Laura PhippsKirsty MaraisClaire LucasRobin BrisbourneKaty StubbsFaye MonkEd Pinches

Dr Ashwin Venkataraman is a Psychiatrist at Imperial College London, and an Alzheimer’s Research UK-funded Clinical Research Fellow. We caught up with him recently to find out more about his research into the potential links between alcohol abuse and Alzheimer’s disease.

Name and job title

Dr Ashwin Venkataraman, Alzheimer’s Research UK Clinical Research Fellow

What was your early career path to being a researcher?

I’ve always been interested in research, and was able to do research at an early stage whilst training to be a doctor at University College London Medical School. I was fortunate enough to always have dedicated research jobs built into my medical training alongside seeing patients. I moved to the University of Leeds as an Academic Foundation Doctor, and then to Imperial College London as an Academic Clinical Fellow. I have had inspirational supervisors who have always encouraged me to pursue the research career path.

Why did you choose to work on dementia?

I chose to work in dementia because I find the area of brain research fascinating and really rewarding. I have come into contact with many people with dementia in my family and friends, and in the people I see in clinic. I know how devastating dementia can be for the person and the people around them. I believe that we need to defeat this condition, and research is the only way to do this.

What does your research focus on?

My research focusses on how drinking too much alcohol could lead to Alzheimer’s disease. I will use cutting-edge brain scanning techniques to see whether alcoholism could lead to the build-up of protein linked to Alzheimer’s in the brain. I will use brain scans called PET and MRI to look for amyloid, and I will check the genes and memory and thinking skills of people with alcoholism, and look for changes linked to Alzheimer’s.

Why is this area of research important?

Most people in the UK drink alcohol, and a quarter drink in harmful amounts. We know drinking alcohol can raise the risk of many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I will try to understand the shared mechanisms involved. If drinking alcohol in excess is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, this could have a huge impact on how we see the disease, our attitudes to drinking, and indicate ways to reduce our risk of the disease.

How are you involved with the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK?

I am very fortunate and privileged to have my work funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK – without them and their supporters this would not be possible. Thank you for the opportunity.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Getting an Alzheimer’s Research UK Clinical Fellowship.

What’s the best thing about working as a scientist?

The best thing for me is having the potential for the research I do directly benefiting the patients I see.

What advice would you give new scientists embarking on a career in dementia research?

This is the most exciting field of research. Now is the right time to join. We now have new technologies to change the field of dementia research and make a difference to millions of people.

If you had to convince someone about the importance of dementia research in one line, what would you say?

Dementia affects so many people worldwide and the key to combating this condition is research – you should be involved, if not for you, do it for your children and grandchildren.

What do you do in your spare time/outside the lab?

I love walking in the Lake District. I also like growing plants – cacti, succulents and bonsai trees.

What’s the one thing you can’t live without?

Coffee.

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