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Concentrating on Dementia

Christian Sandøe Musaeus, doctor and PhD student, is receiving a Lundbeck Foundation 2020 Talent Prize. The prize is in reward for his research on dementia diagnosis

The field of dementia is in urgent need of talented researchers – and they won’t be short of work!
Numbers of dementia sufferers are growing steadily in line with the increase in average life expectancy. Science has not yet discovered any effective cure for the disease, and there is also room for improvement in diagnostic methods.

Christian Sandøe Musaeus, a 29-year-old doctor and PhD student at the Danish Dementia Research Centre at Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, is one of Denmark’s new dementia researchers. During the relatively short time in which he has been conducting research, he has done so well and been so persistent and innovative that he is now being rewarded with one of the three Talent Prizes that the Lundbeck Foundation is awarding in 2020.

Each prize comes with a monetary award of DKK 500,000. DKK 150,000 of this amount is a personal honorary award, and the remainder is to be spent on research.

DEVICE IN THE EAR

Can an EEG examination – a painless, non-invasive technique – be used to fine-tune dementia diagnoses?

This is the main theme running through all of Dr Musaeus’ research projects, and he has been studying this field since 2013 when he was only halfway through his medical studies at the University of Copenhagen.

‘During my degree, I was given the opportunity to improve my skills at the Danish Dementia Research Centre,’ he explains.

‘I quickly realised that dementia is a highly intriguing field and that I would eventually like to delve deeper into it, but I hadn’t done any research work before. Professor Gunhild Waldemar, head of the research centre, helped me get started, and later also helped me with my application for a research visit to Harvard Medical School in the USA. I was there for a year and learnt how to apply EEG and MRI scans to a number of dementia issues.’

One of the dementia studies in which Dr Musaeus participated was based on memory data from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland:

‘There were large volumes of data involved. The research team wanted to find out if EEG could be used as a diagnostic tool when a patient seeks help at a memory clinic for the first time – when we, as the doctor, need to identify whether the patient has Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. And it actually looks like EEG has some potential, so we’ll be taking a closer look at that.’

As Christian Sandøe Musaeus explains, his PhD project concerns use of a special type of EEG:

‘My project involves using EEG to identify whether patients with Alzheimer’s or Lewy body dementia develop epileptic activity in the brain. For this type of epilepsy examination, the patient usually needs to be admitted to hospital for 24 hours. They will then undergo EEG examinations, and in most cases, the procedure will be uncomplicated. It’s a different matter, though, if the patient has Alzheimer’s or Lewy Body dementia. In these cases, leaving their familiar environment to be admitted to hospital can trigger anxiety. So, we’re using a different kind of EEG to detect epilepsy in patients with dementia.’

Dr Musaeus explains that the version they are using is an ear EEG. It is very small and is inserted into the ear, pretty much like a hearing aid:

‘We’ve monitored ten patients so far. They wear the earpiece at home for a few days while the device registers and stores information from activity in the brain, including epileptic activity. We then retrieve the device and analyse the data.’

This type of data on epileptic activity could eventually be used in treatment of dementia sufferers – if, of course, we can do something to slow down the rate of development of the epilepsy. However, as Christian Sandøe Musaeus says: ‘We’re still a long way from that.’

 

Read more about the Lundbeck Foundation’s Talent Prize winners 2020

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