The second instalment of the Lewy Body UK Conference celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Lewy Body Society and disseminated the latest developments in the field to researchers, clinicians, and members of the public. The switch to an online format for this year’s meeting proved advantageous as it enabled presenters from the United States and Australia to take part, as well as facilitating lively discussions through panel Q&As. Dr Rimona Weil (University College London) kicked off the meeting with several welcoming remarks before handing over to Jacqui Cannon, Chief Executive of the Lewy Body Society. Jacqui presented a message on behalf of the society’s patron, Ms June Brown, MBE, in addition to outlining the crucial work that the Lewy Body Society does in funding research into Lewy Body Dementia.
The meeting was divided into three sessions, each with a distinct focus. Professor JohnPaul Taylor (Newcastle University) chaired the first session, which revolved around the mechanisms of disease. Opening the session was Dr Caroline Williams-Gray (University of Cambridge), who expounded upon the role of central and peripheral immune activation in the pathogenesis of Lewy Body Disease. She drew upon her group’s work on neuropathological and radionucleotide studies to illustrate the relationship between immune activation and disease progression, and described AZA-PD, an ongoing proof of concept clinical trial. This was followed by Dr Tim Bartels (UCL), who reviewed the different isoforms of alpha-synuclein. He then highlighted the potential role of lipids in alpha synuclein aggregation and the associated therapeutic implications. After that, Professor Mina Ryten (UCL) described the use of transcriptomics to both identify molecular differences between Parkinson’s Disease and the Lewy Body Dementias, and revealed potential links with other neurodegenerative conditions. Closing the session Professor Tammaryn Lashley (UCL) provided an overview of diagnostic staging systems for alpha synuclein, amyloid beta and tau pathology.
The second session was led by Dr Claire O’Callaghan (University of Sydney) and highlighted the exciting work being carried out by early career researchers. Dr Elie Matar (University of Sydney) drew upon the results of the DIAMOND-LEWY study to describe the progression of core clinical features in Lewy Body Dementia. His work demonstrated a significant and measurable decline in cognition, parkinsonism and cognitive fluctuations in the disease. Secondly, Dr Abdul Hye (King’s College London) gave a talk on his seminal work in developing novel Alzheimer’s Disease blood biomarkers, and how these approaches are being translated to the non-Alzheimer’s dementias including Lewy Body Dementia. Next, Dr Angelika Zarkali (University College London) spoke on how visual dysfunction predicts worsening cognition in Parkinson’s disease and its association with greater white matter degeneration over time. Lastly, Dr Leonidas Chouliaras (University of Cambridge) described DNA methylation changes in the blood associated with Lewy Body Dementia and his ongoing work into investigating how these relate to epigenetic alterations in brain tissue.
After a short break, we returned to our screens for a special session that featured presentations pitched at a level more accessible to members of the public. Professor John O’Brien (University of Cambridge) gave an overview of the clinical challenges faced in the diagnosis and management of Lewy Body Dementias. He also highlighted the newly validated Management Toolkit as a useful tool clinically; and optimistically showcased how trials are happening in the field, focusing on a potential disease-modifying drug, Neflamapimod. Professor O’Brien’s talk was followed by a conversation between Chris Maddocks, a person living with dementia and Rachel Thompson, the Lewy Body Consultant Admiral Nurse. Chris shared her journey to being diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, and the implications of her diagnosis. She also encouraged researchers to involve people with lived experience from the very beginning of their work.
The final session of the day featured Dr Jose Bras (Van Andel Institute, Michigan), a leading molecular geneticist. Dr Bras gave a summary of potential gene loci involved in Dementia with Lewy Bodies and advanced the hypothesis that the condition has a distinct genetic profile relative to the other Lewy Body diseases.
I found the conference both informative and inspiring, with a wealth of insights into basic science, translational research, clinical practice and lived experience.
As our understanding of this previously neglected condition grows, the development of new interventions appears to be just over the horizon. A very big thank you to the organisers, eminent speakers and participants from across the globe for making this meeting a success!
We hope to see you at the International Lewy Body Dementia Conference, which will be held from 15th to 17th June 2022 in Newcastle.