Experiences of an NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research student

Dr Paul Donaghy started his career with the NIHR in 2012 when he took up the position of Clinical Research Associate with the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), following his medical training and five years working as a Doctor.

As we embark on the next five years of NIHR BRC funding in Newcastle, Dr Donaghy gives us an overview of his research and describes his experience of being involved in NIHR funded research.

Tackling dementia with the NIHR

As part of his Clinical Research Associate post, Dr Paul Donaghy worked on two significant studies related to dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), funded by the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre; AMPLE and LewyPRO.

DLB is the second most common form of neurodegenerative dementia, exhibiting additional symptoms to other forms of dementia. Identifying these symptoms can significantly improve speed of diagnosis and therefore can lead to timely and more effective treatment.

The studies Dr Donaghy was involved in investigated whether specialised imaging techniques would allow us to understand the disease process of DLB better, and help with earlier diagnosis. His role within each included carrying out research directly with patients and research volunteers, something the appealed to him.

“I was attracted by the Clinical Research position because it combined both patient contact and research activity. I didn’t want to stop seeing patients, but I also knew I could put my knowledge to good use by continuing research in a field I was passionate about.

“Before starting the NIHR post, I had reservations about taking on a research position. The misconception is that the research in my field takes place in labs and would not allow me to continue working with patients, which I really enjoy.”

At the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre, patients, carers and the public are essential to the research carried out. As outlined above, by taking part in projects, the public have enabled new and more effective treatments to become available, significantly improving the outlook for people diagnosed with dementia with Lewy bodies.

Patient participation in studies such as the AMPLE and LewyPRO took place in the NIHR-funded Clinical Ageing Research Unit (CARU), funded by the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University. CARU facilitates research participation through the provision of state-of-the-art equipment and dedicated environments where volunteers can feel safe and supported by fully trained staff.

The AMPLE study went on to successfully recruit 77 participants and was the largest amyloid imaging cohort in DLB. The results of the study show that amyloid remains a potential treatment target in around half of all DLB cases. If a successful amyloid agent is identified in Alzheimer’s disease, it could be trialled in DLB patients with amyloid deposition.

Future research career with NIHR

On completion of his post with the NIHR Newcastle BRC, Dr Donaghy was successful in being awarded an Academic Clinical Lectureship with the NIHR to complete his training in Old Age Psychiatry. He currently combines research in this area with a clinical role where he continues to treat patients.

“I would thoroughly recommend undertaking dementia research at the NIHR Newcastle BRC to any health professional or scientist who is considering it. It’s a great place to embark on a research career and a fascinating subject to study.”

Newcastle’s expertise in dementia research

A key area of research for the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre is Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), including people living with Parkinson’s who go on to develop dementia.

Newcastle is recognised as a world-leading centre for research into dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s. Through the work of highly experienced clinicians and scientists associated with the NIHR Newcastle BRC, we continue to improve our understanding of key disease symptoms and develop improved means of diagnosis, monitoring and treatment that will result in significant advances for patients.

Over the next five years, the NIHR will fund several studies into dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies which will build upon the fantastic work carried out over the past 10 years.

Read Dr Donaghy’s latest publication on the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment with Lewy bodies.