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Tracking progression of dementia using brain imaging  

Project details

Mica Clarke
UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
Research area
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
Funding type
PhD studentship
Awarded in
September 2016


Mica Clarke was awarded a place on the prestigious four-year Clinical Neurosciences PhD programme at UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology in 2016, funded by Brain Research UK.

The first year of the Clinical Neurosciences PhD is a training year in which students undertake some specialised courses and carry out three short research projects in different labs, helping them to gain experience and build expertise across different areas of neuroscience. Students then choose a full research project and supervisor for the subsequent three years.

Having completed her third rotation in the Dementia Research Centre under the supervision of Dr Jonathan Rohrer, Mica developed a strong interest in PET imaging and decided to pursue this for her PhD.

Mica is now using PET imaging to examine certain changes in the brains of patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), and to understand how these changes differ between patients with different types of FTD and how they compare to the brains of healthy controls.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease for which there is currently no effective treatment.

In contrast to other types of dementia, which predominantly affect older people, FTD mainly affects those between the ages of 45 and 64. It is caused by damage to cells in areas of the brain called the frontal and temporal lobes, the front and side parts of the brain. The mechanisms underlying development of the disease are not yet clear although a third of all cases are genetic.

Patients with FTD show cognitive changes in two major domains: behaviour and language.

Read more: About dementia

Tracking disease progression with new brain imaging techniques

FTD describes a group of rapidly progressive dementias that may present with slightly different symptoms and may have different underlying pathology.

Whilst no curative treatments currently exist, as treatment trials are emerging it is important to be able to measure and predict the progression of FTD.  

In her PhD project, Mica is using a form of imaging called Positron Emission Tomography (PET), which is used to produce detailed three-dimensional images of the brain, or other parts of the body. She is using PET imaging techniques to seek insights into the differences between various forms of FTD, and aims to identify accurate and reliable ways to measure disease progression and/or monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

One of the key measures she is assessing is the level of inflammation in the brains of patients with FTD, and the extent to which this differs between patients with different forms of FTD, and how it compares to healthy controls.


This work should give important insights to the mechanisms underlying the development and progression of FTD and could provide tools to inform prognosis. As potential new treatments for FTD emerge, it is important to have tools to assess their effectiveness.

And by enhancing our understanding of the processes underlying FTD, this work may even contribute to the development of potential new treatments.  

Equally important, through this PhD studentship, we are nurturing the development of a promising young researcher who we hope will go on to develop a long and illustrious career in this important field of research.

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