Earlier this year we awarded a three-year Clinical Research Fellowship to Dr Jay Amin at the University of Southampton, a doctor specialising in Old Age Psychiatry. We chatted to Jay about the aims of his project, how he became interested in dementia research and what interests him outside the clinic. Dr Amin’s Alzheimer’s Research UK Clinical Research Fellowship is supported by funding from the Lewy Body Society.
I did my medical undergraduate training in Southampton, and junior doctor training in Winchester where I specialised in General Psychiatry then Old Age Psychiatry, focusing on diagnosing and treating people with dementia.
I also did an Academic Clinical Fellowship, which was supervised by Dr Delphine Boche and Prof Clive Holmes at the University of Southampton and involved looking at brain tissue from people with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as working on some clinical trials. It was during that period that I became fascinated by research into the different types of dementia.
Your background is in working with patients in the clinic. What made you want to branch out and be a researcher?
When I’m in clinic with people with dementia and their families, there isn’t a lot we can offer them in terms of medication. There’s plenty we can do to help support them, but there are limited treatments, and those that do exist don’t work for everyone. I often feel that my hands are tied, and I wanted to do something to help try and develop a greater understanding of these diseases to help find new treatments.
What does your research focus on?
I’m looking at the role of the immune system in dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). In DLB, people have very troubling symptoms like visual hallucinations, and they often have falls, which can make life very difficult for them. It can be hard to diagnose because some of the symptoms overlap with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. There’s lots of research going on into the immune system in Alzheimer’s, but very little looking at it in DLB.
For my project I’m recruiting volunteers into a clinical study to examine their blood for specific immune system markers. For this I’m working with Clive Holmes and the Memory Assessment Research Centre in Southampton.
I’m also studying tissue from brains that were donated by people who had Alzheimer’s disease and DLB during their lives, as well as healthy people, to look at markers of the immune system in the brain. I want to get a broad overview of whether the immune system is different in people with DLB.
Why is this important?
We still don’t know very much about why people get Alzheimer’s disease, and even less about DLB. If we identify changes in the immune system, we might then be in a position to help develop a way of making a more accurate diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis is really important because it can help us to provide more tailored medical care to people, but it can also help clinical trials. When you’re testing a new treatment, you need to know you’re testing it in the right group of people.
What first made you become interested in working on dementia?
The clinical side came first for me. I was really struck by how devastating the condition is, not only for the patients, but for their families. It’s becoming more and more apparent that we’re going to have more people with dementia in the future, and if we can develop better treatments, that will have far reaching benefits.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Passing my postgraduate exams and becoming a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists was something I worked hard for and was an important moment for me. And the other was being awarded the Clinical Research Fellowship by Alzheimer’s Research UK, and being funded to work on this project for three years.
What advice would you give to other clinicians who might be thinking of a career in dementia research?
Definitely try it out. Clinical work can be challenging and sometimes people feel there’s no time for research, but there are ways of getting involved. If you enjoy it and find you’re suited to it, it’s definitely worth pursuing.
If you had to convince someone about the need for dementia research in one line, what would you say?
Dementia is likely to be the biggest public health issue during this generation and the next so we really have to do all we can to meet this challenge now.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My wife and I really enjoy travelling, and we’ve been lucky enough to explore some really great places: earlier this year we went to Australia, which was fantastic. For my sins, I’m an Arsenal fan and I’m also an avid follower of cricket. I’m quite into adrenaline activities like skydiving and I’ve recently got into scuba diving.
What one thing couldn’t you live without?
Apart from my wife, I’m going to have to say my phone – I’m constantly using it!