Parkinson’s is one of the fastest growing diseases in the world. The same applies to dementia. There is still a lot unknown about these brain diseases. How they develop. Why they develop. Not to mention that there are treatments or medications that can cure or slow down these diseases. A part of the veil was lifted this week by scientists at the University of Cambridge. They discovered that in the case of dementia, there is a close link between so-called frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and encephalitis (brain inflammation) or brain damage. According to the researchers, this discovery raises hopes for new treatments in the near future.

FTD is a form of dementia caused by degeneration of the frontal and/or temporal areas of the brain. Encephalitis is the body’s normal response to damage or stress. Think, for example, of people who have had a major accident which resulted in brain damage.

Earlier research has shown that there is a link between this type of damage and brain disorders, such as depression, psychosis, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, published in the professional journal Brain, the researchers lay out the link with FTD.

University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge

The study examined 31 patients with various forms of FTD. The test subjects were injected twice with a contrast medium after which a PET scan was carried out. The first scan revealed whether inflammatory cells were present. The second test showed the number of so-called “junk” proteins. These are (sometimes harmful) protein molecules whose purpose is unknown. When these two images were superimposed on each other, there were clear similarities.

“This surpassed our expectations”

“We were expecting something like this,” says Dr Thomas Cope of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge. “But even we were surprised at the similarity between these two conditions.” According to fellow researcher Dr. Richard Bevan Jones, it is quite plausible that the two anomalies reinforce and accelerate each other.

Professor James Rowe of the Cambridge Centre for Frontotemporal Dementia sees this as an important discovery that will not only help in the search for treatments for dementia, but for other brain diseases as well. “This research, added to the fact that we are already aware that inflammation plays a role in Alzheimer’s, shows that it plays a role in other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. That offers some hope for immune therapies which will be able to slow down or prevent these diseases.”