Dr Tracy Melzer: Half a Million to Study Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease

Dr Tracy Melzer is a medical physicist with a sub-speciality in brain imaging techniques. His work involves looking at the brain using imaging technologies like MRI. In 2016 Tracy won the Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship. The fellowship awarded Tracy a whopping $500,000, spread out over four years, to examine the relationship between Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Many people with Parkinson’s disease develop cognitive problems and, eventually, go on to develop dementia. In his project Tracy will be trying to identify tools that could be used to measure the brain changes associated with this decline. Once they have those tools they can use them to not only determine who is starting to suffer from cognitive decline, but if any treatments are working to reverse the effects of cognitive decline.

Tracy plans to use two brain imaging approaches. The first will measure how much of the protein ‘tau’ has accumulated in the brain. Tau is associated with the development of Parkinson’s dementia, and so the progressive increase of tau may be an indicator of how severe a person’s cognitive decline is. The second approach will use a new brain imaging technique to measure blood flow in the brain. By looking at the brains of 25 healthy control participants, and 70 people with Parkinson’s disease and varying levels of cognitive impairment, Tracy hopes to be able to tease out the differences between a healthy brain, a parkinsonian brain, and the brain of a person with Parkinson’s dementia.

Watch Dr Melzer’s 2016 Public Lecture at the University of Otago about brain imaging in Parkinson’s disease.

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