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Scientist Focus: Dr Jay Amin

Dr Laura PhippsKirsty MaraisClaire LucasRobin BrisbourneKaty StubbsEd PinchesGlyn Morris

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.

jay-amin-portraitWhat was your career path to date?

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.

Under the microscope - Clumps of protein called Lewy bodies, which build in the brain in DLB.

Under the microscope – Clumps of protein called Lewy bodies, which build in the brain 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.

JayAminBridgeClimb

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!

4 Responses to Scientist Focus: Dr Jay Amin

  1. Avatar
    Dr Barnaby Thwaites 1 December 2014 at 10:57 am #

    Coming from a cardiology background where the National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease (2000) resulted in substantial extra funding and in the subsequent decade or so major improvements in cardiac care, it is heartening to see the current focus on Dementia.

    There are various data available on the Gov websites regarding the demographic change in the population. See for example http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-335242, some data for England. Using these numbers we can, for example, see that between 2012 and 2030, in the age group 80-90+ years, there will be a 79% increase whereas in the age range 20-64 years the figure is a mere 3.8%. The latter are the taxpayers, while the former will present big increases in demand for medical care for all long-term conditions.

    Obviously percentages are not actual numbers, but nevertheless this has relevance to the importance of what Dr Jay Amin has to say.

    Its great to see passion and commitment in this article for the expanding problem of Dementia!

  2. Avatar
    Joanne Drayson 17 December 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    I hope you are familiar with the work already done in the field of Spirochetal diseases and Dementia prof Judith Miklossy work and website is worth having a look at
    ‘Analysis of the substantial amount of data available in the literature indicates a statistically significant association between spirochetes detected in the brain and Alzheimer’s disease with a high risk factor. Analysis of causality following Koch and Hill is in favor of a causal relationship. Six periodontal pathogen Treponemas and Borrelia burgdorferi were detected in the brains of Alzheimer patients. Further studies are necessary to detect and characterize all types of spirochetes and co-infecting microorganisms, which are involved in Alzheimer’s disease.’
    http://miklossy.ch/

    Pathologist Dr Alan MacDonald was the first to identify Borrelia in the brains of Alzheimer patients his website http://alzheimerborreliosis.net/
    He presented at a meeting in London 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjfWFaIivIc

    Techniques to visualise Borrelia in all it;s forms is not simple but either of these researchers would be more than happy to discuss their work with others researching in a similar field.

  3. Alzheimer's Research UK Editor
    Alzheimer's Research UK Editor 19 January 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    There are currently a number of avenues being investigated into what could trigger inflammation in the brain in diseases like Alzheimer’s. Some researchers are looking at whether bacteria associated with gum disease could be involved, with one research study making the headlines in 2013.

    We commented on that study http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/news-detail/10826/Study-suggests-association-between-poor-dental-health-and-Alzheimers/, which was a small and wasn’t able to show a direct role for these bacteria in the disease. Research in this area is ongoing, along with other important avenues of investigation that will help us build a bigger picture of the factors driving diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies.

  4. Avatar
    david gledhill 3 May 2015 at 9:34 pm #

    Dear Jay, I am interested in your research into the role of inflammation on the development of LBD. I wonder if this could provide a mechanism for the rapid onset that it seems many people have after a TBI. If that is likely is it also likely that the resulting inflammation would be detectable using ‘standard’ diagnosis methods such as CT scan, MRI, LP etc.

    I am interested as my dear father developed severe LBD about a week after a very bad fall downstairs (no symptoms noticed prior). However I was told that there was nothing significant noticed in any of the (listed above) investigations. However from reading the medical notes I noticed that on one occasion there was a quite high opening pressure from a LP (33 cm). This was taken 3 months after the fall and was not investigated or reported on at the time.

    Regards dg (dave@gledhill.me)

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