Monthly seminar series launched


We are launching the DEMON Network Monthly Seminar Series in response to huge demand from our members.

Seminars will include live streamed events covering a range of topics related to the application of data science and AI to dementia research and healthcare. All seminars are freely available to Network members and will be advertised in our newsletter. (Join here for free if you’re not already a member of the DEMON Network.) The first event, and each alternate month thereafter, will be hosted jointly with the UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI) with whom we have an official partnership. Many of our members have expressed an interest in giving talks, but we welcome additional speaker suggestions. We’re also interested in mixing up the format, for example holding debates and interactive workshops. Contact us with your ideas.

This Friday 2nd October you are invited to the inaugural seminar featuring talks and Q&A with two outstanding speakers:


Dr Timothy Rittman
Senior Clinical Research Associate, University of Cambridge
Consultant Neurologist, Addenbrookes Hospital
DEMON Network East UK Regional Lead

Understanding tauopathies – from neuroimaging to mechanisms

Neurodegenerative tauopathies such as Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Corticobasal Degeneration allow us to investigate how tau and its associated pathologies cause clinical syndromes. Neuroimaging gives us the opportunity to study these diseases in vivo, to understand how pathology links to macroscopic changes in brain structure and functional organisation, and ultimately to clinical syndromes. In this talk I will cover some of the advances we have made to understand the links between tau pathology, brain volume loss and functional brain networks. I will also discuss how these advanced neuroimaging techniques that are shedding light on neuropathology, can become clinically useful biomarkers.

Prof Valentina Escott-Price
Group Leader at UK DRI at Cardiff

From genes to treatment or how to find a needle in a haystack

Advances in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) are more pressing than ever due to socioeconomic needs. The field notably shifted away from a purely neurocentric view, largely since Genome-Wide Association Studies identified several risk genes that are primarily expressed in microglia and not in neurons. The challenge is now to leverage the massive amount of genetic data to decipher disease mechanisms and design effective therapeutic interventions for AD. In my talk I will provide an overview of the methodologies for reliable detection of individuals at high risk of AD using common genomic variation, outline my current research in incorporating rare variants for disease probability calculation, describe data and methods needed to recover “missing heritability” in AD, and challenges associated with it.

An unconventional route to Professorship – meet Prof Tammaryn Lashley


Written by Prof Tammaryn Lashley, UCL Regional Network Lead

It has been a huge privilege to be promoted to Professor after being at University College London (UCL) for 20 years.

The route I have taken to this promotion has not been the most conventional.

It started with me studying Biochemistry at Swansea University. I didn’t get the best grade for my undergraduate degree, which meant any PhD applications were not competitive. I was successful in obtaining a research technician position at the National Institute of Medical Research working on spinal cord regeneration in Professor Geoffrey Raisman’s group. This meant I could gain valuable laboratory experience, which gave me transferrable lab skills and I moved to the Institute of Neurology continuing as a histology technician for Professor Tamas Revesz. It was whilst working at Queen Square that I was given the opportunity to undertake a PhD investigating two rare hereditary dementia’s and having worked in a lab for four years I had the skills in the lab to hit the ground running.

I also didn’t take the most conventional route whilst undertaking my PhD…

This photo is of me pipetting, from when I was in New York running experiments for my PhD, I was actually pregnant here with my eldest daughter!

My PhD was part-time as I undertook the histology for the post-mortem brains donated to Queen Square Brain Bank and I also had my first two children. I also spent a proportion of my PhD at New York University to learn biochemical techniques in analysing amyloids for Professor Blas Frangione and Professor Jorge Ghiso. Life was busy and I needed to learn to be as organised as possible, I could only work 9 to 5 and couldn’t work in the lab at weekends, because of the children and balancing my husband’s newly launched architectural business. My studies were planned as much as humanly possible, whilst at work I maximised lab work and read and wrote my thesis whilst at home and the kids were in bed!

Through various project grants supported by Professor Revesz I was able to remain at Queen Square Brain Bank, gaining experience on various neurodegenerative diseases from Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s disease. It was during this time I was able to put together ideas for my Alzheimer’s Research UK junior fellowship to investigate the role of hnRNP proteins in frontotemporal dementia. During this time I had my youngest daughter which also gave me time to think about future ideas that I wanted to pursue. I began making my own collaborations around UCL and worldwide to expand techniques beyond pathological analysis to dissect the underlying mechanisms causing dementia. I was awarded an Alzheimer’s Research UK Senior Fellowship to continue my studies into Frontotemporal dementias. Throughout my career I have detailed the hallmarks in diseases that cause dementia, identified proteins that could be used as potential markers for individual diseases, with the use of post-mortem brain tissue being central to all of my investigations.

“I began making my own collaborations around UCL and worldwide to expand techniques…”

Over the years I have been successful in obtaining various project grants to grow my research group. I now head a group of researchers who complement and support each other. We now undertake proteomic, transcriptomic, lipidomic analysis paired with our pathological investigations. In 2019 I was appointed the Director of Research at Queen Square Brain Bank and promotion to Professor is further recognition of my commitment not only to the dementia research field, but also a commitment in supporting early career researchers to also progress their careers.

Being promoted to this position is a huge privilege. It would not have been possible without many people in my life including my husband, kids and family. I also have many people to thank at UCL and beyond for believing in me, for guiding me and allowing me to grow as a scientist. I’m also indebted to those who have donated their brains for dementia research. I am excited by the prospects of the DEMON Network, and as a Regional Lead for UCL I am looking forward to working with data scientists, artificial intelligence experts and clinicians in this national network to find innovative ways of combating dementia.

“Over the years I have been successful in obtaining various project grants to grow my research group. I now head a group of researchers who complement and support each other”

Our UK DRI Partnership Showcase – An Early Career Researcher’s Perspective


Written by Nonye Nwuke, DEMON Network Research Assistant

On the 17th July 2020, the DEMON Network collaborated with the UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI) for its inaugural partnership Research Showcase. The event highlighted the strength of the UK DRI and DEMON Network to bring together experts in different fields, showcasing the opportunities for knowledge exchange and collaboration to drive forward experimental dementia research.

“I was impressed by the ability of the speakers to communicate their findings in an accessible way”

As an undergraduate pursuing a career in the sciences, I had limited knowledge regarding data science and its ability to transform dementia research. Upon attending, I was impressed by the ability of the speakers to communicate their findings in an accessible way whilst also relaying the importance of their individual themes to advancing dementia research.

Dr Michele Veldsman’s talk on MRI markers of cerebrovascular cognitive impairment introduced the importance of openly available datasets like the UK Biobank as powerful resources. I was able to grasp the advantages of working with large data sets through her research findings, such as the ability to deduce patterns in data which may not be otherwise seen in smaller cohorts. Michelle’s data-driven approach to research was unlike what I have encountered throughout my studies, and I am intrigued to learn more about this in the future.

“this event provided me with valuable insight into the variety of themes underlying dementia research

The research presented by Dr Nathan Skene also reinforced the importance of data-driven approaches. He discussed using large data sets, focusing on the use of genetics to determine underlying mechanisms behind brain disorders. I had come across RNA sequencing when studying the Principles of Medical Research module at university. However, it was interesting to note how this could be practically applied within academic research.

Finally, Professor Graham Ball discussed machine learning for biomarker discovery, pathway modelling and potential causality determination in Alzheimer’s disease. Despite being least familiar with machine learning and bioinformatics, I found the talk engaging. I particularly appreciated learning how these complex pathway models were created and interpreted.

To conclude, this event provided me with valuable insight into the variety of themes underlying dementia research. With future collaborative initiatives on the agenda, the DEMON Network and UK DRI have taken the first steps to ensure real-world impact!

Announcement: New partnership with the UK Dementia Research Institute


We are delighted to announce our new official partnership with the UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI), which brings together a combination of over 1,000 scientists and innovators from the DEMON Network and the UK DRI.

Launched on 17th July, this partnership unites these large dementia research initiatives which have the shared ambition of conducting leading dementia research that leads to improved diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

The DEMON Network is led by Director Prof David Llewellyn and Deputy Director Dr Janice Ranson at the University of Exeter Medical School. Funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alan Turing Institute, the Network aims to provide a platform for innovation and facilitate novel collaborative approaches for interdisciplinary dementia research.

“We established the DEMON Network to bring innovators together, roll up their sleeves and transform the way dementia is prevented, diagnosed and treated. Both the DEMON Network and the UK DRI are keen to think big, focus on impact and take risks to make a real difference. This partnership strengthens the translational aspect of the UK DRI’s research and gives new opportunities to our ambitious and talented DEMON Network members” – Professor David Llewellyn, DEMON Network Director


The UK DRI was established to accelerate the discovery, development and delivery of interventions that will help diagnose, treat and ultimately prevent dementia. Led by Prof Bart De Strooper, their aim is to apply data science and artificial intelligence to expedite the transformation of data into clinical and biologically relevant knowledge in neurodegeneration research.

“The DEMON Network’s vision is to revolutionise dementia research and healthcare by connecting innovators and harnessing the power of data science and artificial intelligence. This new partnership will allow for interdisciplinary collaborations to maximise the potential of UK DRI data, enabling research on a scale not previously possible to make transformational advances in dementia research”.

Dr Janice Ranson, DEMON Network Deputy Director

The recently launched DEMON Network incorporates over 500 scientists, clinicians and industry partners across 6 continents. Network members contribute to collaborative research initiatives across 8 coordinated Working Groups, with support from a dedicated Clinical Advisory Panel and a Patient and Public Involvement Panel. This infrastructure includes training, networking, educational knowledge transfer and engagement with industry for real world impact. Members have wide-ranging interests including the optimisation of clinical trials, neuroimaging, diagnostic technologies, analytic methods development, genetics, and experimental medicine making it a perfect partner for the UK DRI.

The UK DRI is a joint investment by the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK which brings together over 400 researchers and 160 students with world-leading expertise in one national institute with over 55 Group Leaders across seven centres at UCL, the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and King’s College London.

“Enormous scientific and technological advances have made it possible to generate huge volumes of data that will hold clues to some of the big unknowns in dementia research. If we’re to take full advantage of these data, we need to draw on the widest possible pool of expertise and tackle the problem from every angle, leaving no stone unturned. By partnering with the Alan Turing Institute and the DEMON Network, we can draw on a vast range of skills and knowledge. In particular, their extensive experience of harnessing data science and artificial intelligence will help us accelerate progress towards new treatments and approaches. Partnerships like this are vital to solving problems and making the breakthroughs needed to revolutionise the way we treat dementia. I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.” 

Prof Bart De Strooper, Director of the UK DRI

The partnership includes the appointment of a new DEMON Network National Lead based at the UK DRI, to support joint research activities and knowledge exchange between talented researchers with complementary areas of expertise.

This partnership was launched at a Research Showcase on July 17th, including DEMON Network members demonstrating how they are using data science and artificial intelligence to enhance dementia research.

Join the Deep Dementia Phenotyping (DEMON) Network for free if you haven’t already and you’re interested in applying data science and AI to dementia research.

500 members and climbing!


Our membership has more than doubled since March, and we now have over 500 members from six continents. I’d like to thank our core team (Deputy Director Dr Janice Ranson, Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Charlotte James and Network Administrator Jan Alcott) in particular for all of their hard work in building the Network up from scratch so quickly. What an amazing success. We’ve been promoting our Network through a number of different channels, including Twitter (@DEMONNetworkUK), and we now have a DEMON LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/demon-network/

Our focus has now shifted from growing the Network to organising ourselves and achieving impact. It’s really exciting to see how quickly we’re developing and what diverse interests our members have. Members are now invited to join one or more of our practical Working Groups which will focus on writing papers, applying for funding, transferring knowledge and securing new partnerships. See our latest bumper newsletter for more information: http://demondementia.com/newsletter-may-2020/

How big will our Network become? 700 members? A thousand? To be honest I didn’t think we’d manage to get to this point so quickly, so I don’t know. We’re still greedy for new members, so please continue to signpost people to our our webpage: http://demondementia.com/join/ However, I’m satisfied that we now have the critical mass necessary to achieve our ambitious goals. I look forward to working with our members to achieve our vision of revolutionising dementia research and healthcare by bringing innovators together and harnessing the power of data science and AI.

Prof David Llewellyn, DEMON Network Director

Newsletter June 2020: Special Issue


DEMON Network Latest News and Opportunities
Special Issue: Our National Strategy and Grand Challenges

It’s been a busy month for the Network! This Special Issue includes important updates from our National Strategy Workshop, with the results of our members survey and the opportunity to get involved in Working Groups to tackle our Grand Challenges
With a recent influx of new members, we now have over 430 talented innovators in our Network spanning 21 countries, 68 universities and 35 commercial companies. Together, we are perfectly positioned to take on ambitious, high impact dementia research. In this issue we are delighted to present our newly established research support services, upcoming events, Early Career Researcher opportunities, invitations to collaborate and new ways to connect with the Network. I hope you enjoy this Special Issue newsletter, and I look forward to collaborating with you in the near future!

Dr Janice Ranson, Network Deputy Director

Survey Results
We had a fantastic response to our recent Collaborative Research Initiatives Survey. Read the survey report.Lecture Series: Our monthly Lecture Series will be launched in September, and over 30 innovators have already offered to deliver a lecture. 
Commercialisation: Over half of our membership is interested in commercialising their research. Forging industry partnerships will be a key feature in our Network activities.
Collaborative research: With over 100 members already having offered to contribute to collaborative papers and grants, there is huge resource within the Network for a large programme of research and innovation.

National Strategy Workshop Report
Last week we convened our 36-strong leadership team of Regional Leads, National Theme Leads and Steering Committee to hold a National Strategy Workshop, chaired by Network Lead Prof David Llewellyn. At this workshop we set out our Grand Challenges and initiated Working Groups for collaborative research.
Read David’s account of the workshop.

DEMON Network Grand Challenges
Based on the priorities of the Network, we set out five Grand Challenges the Network aims to tackle in dementia research:

Intelligent Experimental Medicine
Enhanced Dementia Diagnostics
Preventing Dementia
Artificial Clinical Intelligence
Optimised Research Methods

Collaborative Research

Working Groups to tackle our Grand Challenges
We have established 8 Working Groups for our Network to drive forward collaborative research initiatives. These are practical groups which address the Grand Challenges by producing publications, developing partnerships, securing funding and running educational knowledge transfer events. There are lots of ways for members to get involved.
  1. Genetics and Omics
  2. Experimental models
  3. Drug discovery and trials optimisation
  4. Biomarkers
  5. Imaging
  6. Prevention
  7. Applied modelling and digital health
  8. Methods
Working Groups are now open for members to join and we strongly encourage members at all career levels and from a variety of backgrounds to participate. There is also the opportunity to apply to lead a Working Group. 

Support for Researchers

Clinical Advisory Panel

Our Clinical Advisory Panel is made up of experienced clinicians from primary and secondary care who can provide clinical input to strengthen your research projects and funding applications.

Patient and Public Involvement Panel

Our panel of Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) contributors can work in partnership with you to design, conduct, evaluate and communicate high quality research.

Upcoming Events

DEMON Network – UK DRI
Research Showcase
 

DEMON Network & UK DRI: Driving forward experimental dementia research using data science and AI

DEMON Network members are exclusively invited to attend this event. Introduced by UK DRI Director of Scientific Affairs Dr Giovanna Lalli, four of our talented members will showcase our Network and how we are using data science and AI to transform dementia research. Definitely not one to miss! 

Date: 12.00 – 1.30 pm (BST) Friday, 17th July 2020
Location: Virtual Zoom Webinar
Cost: Free

AAIC  > 2020
The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® is the largest and most influential international meeting dedicated to advancing dementia science. Each year, AAIC® convenes the world’s leading dementia researchers and clinicians to share breaking research discoveries for the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Knowledge Transfer Network
Dementia Biodesign Workshop 

The Knowledge Transfer Network Neurotechnology Special Interest Group is holding the fourth in its series of biodesign workshops in collaboration with the UK Dementia Research Institute. The workshop will explore novel neurotechnologies to treat dementia, discuss barriers to adoption and new opportunities in the field. This will bring together clinicians, companies, academics, charities and other stakeholders, to accelerate the development of new neurotechnologies for dementia.

Date: 10am – 12pm Wednesday 16th September 2020
Register: https://ktn-uk.co.uk/events/dementia-biodesign-workshop-london
Cost: Free

Scottish Dementia Research Consortium
Annual Conference 2020

The fifth annual Scottish Dementia Research Consortium (SDRC) welcomes members of the SDRC and everyone with an interest in dementia research. This year’s SDRC Conference, titled “Unlocking the mysteries of data” will shed light on the world of informatics and how it is used for brain health research.

Date: 7th September 2020
Register:
https://www.sdrc.scot/conference
Location: Radisson Blu, Glasgow
Cost: Free

Early Career Researchers

Drop-in Session with Early Career Development National Leads

Dr Michele Veldsman and Dr Magda Bucholc will be hosting a one-hour online morning coffee and chat session, where they will be available to discuss all things early career related, and are keen to hear your suggestions on ways the Network can help Early Career Researchers with skills development and career progression. Register now to secure your place!

Date: 9am – 10am 13th July 2020
Places available: 15
Contact: michele.veldsman@psy.ox.ac.uk

Young Entrepreneurs Scheme: Unleash your ingenuity

YES is an innovative global competition developed to raise awareness among postdoctoral researchers of how ideas from science and engineering can be commercialised. You will spend three days immersed in developing enterprise skills; thinking creatively to produce innovative solutions to major challenges; discovering how to communicate research with impact; and networking with industry experts.
Challenge yourself and pitch for a share of the £15k+ prize fund at the Royal Society!

Application deadline: Friday 31st July 2020
For further info: www.yescompetitions.co.uk

Scottish Dementia Research Consortium
Early Career Researcher Workshop

This one-day grant writing and collaboration workshop will focus on supporting early career researchers through the process of applying for research funding. This includes collaboratively developing ideas, innovation, selecting appropriate funding calls through to writing successful applications.

Date: 8th September 2020
Location: Radisson Blu, Glasgow
Register here
Cost: Free

Invitation to Collaborate

Genetic (RNA sequencing) data collaboration

Our Midlands Regional Lead Dr Anto Rajamani and colleagues recently published their investigation of post-mortem Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) brains using next-generation RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq). They identified 12 genome-wide significant differentially expressed genes and their dysfunctional molecular networks. If you are interested in doing secondary and/or functional analyses of RNA-Seq data, Anto would be delighted to share their data. This collaboration may lead to publications, grant applications, and discovery of novel biomarkers.
Contact: anto.rajamani@nottingham.ac.uk 

Connect with the Network


Slack: demon-net.slack.com 

Join the discussion! General Channel for all Network members, and dedicated channels for Working Groups.


Twitter: @DemonNetworkUK

Research news and opportunities all things data science and dementia.


LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/demon-network

Follow us to be part of our LinkedIn community. 

Do you have news, opportunities or events you’d like us to include in the next DEMON Network newsletter? New research that you’d like us to feature?
Please email any content to Network Coordinator Dr Janice Ranson.

j.ranson@exeter.ac.uk

National Strategy Workshop Reflections


What a week it’s been for the DEMON Network. Our National Strategy Workshop last Wednesday was the first chance our Steering Committee, National Leads, and Regional Leads have had to meet. During the Workshop Dr Janice Ranson, our Deputy Director, gave a really engaging presentation about the amazing growth of the Network to well over 400 members in just a few months. Our multidisciplinary Network now includes a fantastic mix of data scientists, clinicians, dementia researchers, computer scientists and industry, all keen to collaborate and innovate. Ms Nonye Nwuke, Research Assistant, then gave a fascinating presentation about the results of our recent Collaborative Research Initiatives Survey. In a nutshell it’s clear that our members have wide-ranging interests and are keen to commercialise their research.

Those findings informed our discussions about what we should be doing and how we can most effectively work together. We agreed our five Grand Challenges (see below), and set out our plans for eight Working Groups to deliver practical and tangible outputs over the next year and beyond. Knowledge sharing, collaborative papers and funding applications, and deeper partnerships with organisations including industry will all be key to our success. We’re aiming to get our Working Groups set up and launched within a month so that we don’t lose momentum. Similarly we’ll get our National Strategy Report out to you soon, which will outline our vision and the concrete steps we’ll be taking.

There’s also lots of other exciting stuff in the pipeline, for example we’re establishing a formal partnership with the UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI) – see our newsletter for your invitation to the upcoming launch event. Thank you to everyone who’s helped make the Network so successful; particularly given the difficult circumstances we’ve found ourselves in recently. Now that we’ve built the Network it’s time to get serious and make a real difference. I’m delighted to be working with such an exciting bunch of innovators to do just that.

     Prof David Llewellyn, University of Exeter and the Alan Turing Institute, DEMON Network Lead

Feedback from the Workshop:

“Great @DEMONNetworkUK national strategy meeting today. Exciting times ahead for collaborative dementia research!”

  Dr Timothy Rittman, University of Cambridge, East Regional Lead

“Really interesting morning attending the @DEMONNetworkUK National Strategy workshop. Exciting things to come out in the National Strategy Report, including our grand challenges and new working groups – watch this space!”

     Dr Ríona McArdle, Newcastle University, North Regional Lead

“The workshop provided a significant opportunity to discuss the way forward with the DEMON network and facilitated a common focus for the wide group of experts that are members.  I was extremely impressed at the breadth of skills and experience in the network and the coming together of individuals from so many disciplines with a common purpose.  From the workshop it feels like the network has a real momentum now and I was impressed by the collegiate attitude of the members.  I look forward to further meetings and feel great things will come from the network’s efforts.  I will not hesitate to recommend membership to my colleagues working in the dementia and Artificial Intelligence research areas.”

     Prof Graham Ball, Nottingham Trent University, Midlands Regional Lead

“Meeting the full UK-wide Network for the first time was really exciting.  After hearing about the themes on intelligent experimental medicine and biomarkers, I look forward to next steps when we start the collaborations on these new ideas.”

     Dr Laura Winchester, University of Oxford, Thames Valley Regional Lead

DEMON goes global!


We originally envisioned DEMON as a UK National Network. However, our membership surpassed our expectations, reaching 29 countries worldwide. With a presence on 6 continents, we are advancing our aim to revolutionize dementia research and healthcare through interdisciplinary collaboration.

The diverse array of countries our members are from reflects the high level of interest we have received. Our list of top 10 countries boasts members from Finland, India, and Nigeria, encouraging inclusivity and innovation in science.

Members currently represent 111 universities and 64 other organisations. We hope these figures will continue to climb as our influence spreads across institutions.

Additionally, we are pursuing strategic partnerships with industry so the network can progress towards financial self-sustainability. We have 51 DEMON members with background in industry, increasing our potential industry contacts. Our membership represents 48 commercial companies with varied interests, such as AI, software development, pharmaceuticals, and technology.

Examples of commercial companies represented by DEMON membership

Achieving a global membership in under 8 months is no easy feat and was achieved through different means, such as relentless sharing on our social media platforms. We urge you to follow us on Twitter (@DEMONNetworkUK) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/demon-network/) so we can continue to grow our membership to new heights.

220 members already!


The DEMON Network is off to a great start with 220 members already. That’s fantastic news as the bigger the Network the better the collaborative opportunities there will be for all of us.

We have a fantastic mix of data scientists, AI specialists, clinicians, dementia researchers and industry partners. This diversity will really help people to mix with others with different expertise and from different disciplines.

Members come from across the UK and further afield, which reflects our strategy of recruiting people through regional networks.

We’re really excited at the level of interest, and as you can see the membership is continuing to increase:

Members have expressed an interest in a wide range of Network activities to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration:

A big thank you to everyone who’s helped us to make so much progress in such a short amount of time. We still want more members of all types, so please promote membership as widely as possible. It’s free and easy using the following link: http://demondementia.com/join/

Machine Learning Datathon to Combat Dementia Blog


A branch of artificial intelligence which is based on training computers to learn patterns has the ability to transform our understanding of dementia. David Llewellyn co-leads the first Dementias Platform UK datathon next month. He explains why machine learning could be the beginning of the end for this devastating condition.

Dementia isn’t a single disease and people with dementia, or who are at risk of dementia, vary enormously. Some forms of dementia are caused by neurodegeneration, including Alzheimer’s disease, and others are caused by vascular problems such as stroke. Not being able to diagnose it early enough is one of the biggest problems, and it’s in this area that AI techniques like machine learning give me hope.

Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence which relies on our ability to train computers to learn from data and identify hidden patterns. As computers have become more powerful, so has our ability to harness them and make sense of rich and large datasets. Machine learning already enhances our smartphones and makes internet searching efficient, and we suspect that machine learning has the potential to transform clinical medicine. Machine learning is particularly well suited to dealing with clinical data relating to complex conditions such as dementia, and for that reason we are excited to explore its potential in a datathon.

My hope is that machine learning will help us diagnose the disease early enough so people can receive better support and access ongoing research studies. Why haven’t we been able to diagnose it early? Simply put, the early stages of dementia are invisible. Clinicians are often unsure who to refer for costly, time-consuming and potentially worrying investigations at memory clinics. Some people never go to their doctor and around a third of cases are never diagnosed. As a result it is very challenging to assess patients and recruit them to trials that will be right for them. We need research that gives us new insights into the complex ‘disease signatures’ that underpin dementia and have the potential to enhance clinical practice. But where do we start? Many of my colleagues and I think machine learning is a very promising approach.

Not all machine learning scientists will be familiar with the datathon format but we’re already seeing enthusiasm within the community for this way of working. A datathon is an event where scientists come together to conduct analyses, challenge themselves, learn new techniques, and have fun. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet other interesting people and make a difference to what is a really big societal challenge. My hope is that this will be the key to improving care, and fuelling the trials which we hope will result in new disease-modifying treatments.

More details on our datathon

When and where is it?

Our machine learning for dementia datathon is running from 1-3 May 2019, at the University of Exeter, Forum

Who is organising it?

The datathon is a collaboration between Dementias Platform UK (DPUK), Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), the Alan Turing Institute and the University of Exeter who have all helped to fund and organise the event. The lead organisers are Dr Sarah Bauermeister (DPUK and University of Oxford), and Professors David Llewellyn and Richard Everson (University of Exeter).

What will it involve?

We will have some brief talks to introduce the event, explain how it works and plan for the future. However, the emphasis will be on getting to know each other and getting our teeth into the data. Over three days we will work in groups to experiment and share knowledge. At the end of the datathon we will reflect on what we’ve learnt and think about how we might want to work together in the future.

Who are you looking for?

Places are limited but people will be selected on merit and enthusiasm. Under-represented groups are particularly encouraged to apply. To get the most out of the event people will need to be able to program and have experience of machine learning techniques. Experience of dementia-related data or research is not necessary as clinical support will be provided.

How do people apply?

Fill in the online form here.

Artificial Intelligence and Dementia: Q&A


Artificial Intelligence (AI) – human intelligence exhibited by machines – in healthcare is developing rapidly, with many applications currently in use or in development in the UK and worldwide.

We speak to Dr David Llewellyn, a Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Exeter Medical School, about the impact of AI on dementia diagnosis. David’s research focuses on how data science and AI can improve the way in which we conceptualise neurocognitive disorders in order to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

How do you define AI as it relates to healthcare and what are some of the biggest transformations that it will bring to the field?
In its broadest sense, artificial intelligence is the creation of generalisable intelligence. At the moment the majority of progress is being made with machine learning, where we’re teaching machines to learn patterns in real clinical data. We’re taking techniques that have been developed for a wide range of purposes, for example, self-driving cars and search engines, and applying this to real clinical data. This gives us a massive advantage in that we’re able to handle a much richer range of data than we were able to do so before with traditional statistical methods. We’re developing pieces of software which can be used by clinicians or patients to improve healthcare efficiency, patient safety, and patient outcomes.

How close are we to a world where AI are used to diagnose and treat patients?
I think that AI is already used to diagnose and treat patients but in limited ways. For example, before patients come and see their GP, they’re increasingly using the internet. They’re using AI through search engines to work out what their symptoms might mean. Doctors are also increasingly using various forms of AI and we’re seeing the growth in decision-making aid. It’s very much that the doctor is still in control, but they’re getting more targeted information about individual patients.

Do you foresee a future where AI technologies can operate autonomously in healthcare?
We’re much further away from systems that can actually make decisions autonomously without the doctor and without any clinical oversight. If we think about autonomous cars as an analogy, we’ve got cruise control. Similarly with AI in healthcare, we’ve got aids to decision-making. What we don’t have are ‘robot doctors’ that can diagnose and treat patients without any human oversight. I think that will come, but we’re a long way from that.

The biggest question at the moment is how we are going to regulate that process. If it’s an aid for doctors but the doctor is still in control, then you can regulate it as a medical device. But if it’s autonomous, then actually what it’s doing is practicing medicine, not supporting a doctor who practices medicine. Medical societies regulate people who practice medicine but who exactly is going to regulate machines that have the capacity to practice medicine? I don’t think we’re anywhere near to reaching a solution for that and there is certainly no way which we can effectively regulate that at the moment.

Are there any common misconceptions or general misunderstandings about AI that you believe could use some clarity?
When we think about how AI can influence medicine, there’s often the misconception that it’s going to deskill the workforce and put people out of a job. However, when you bear in mind the immense pressures that the NHS is under, I think AI technologies in healthcare should be seen as a massive opportunity to improve patient outcomes and to make the jobs themselves better for clinicians. Particularly things that are routine – they can be taken away from a clinician’s job. It will become less about whether AI will replace clinicians, but more about how clinicians will use the technology to enhance their own abilities. That’s a tremendous opportunity if you can empower clinicians to think in that way. It will allow them to focus on the human side of medicine, which for most medical professionals is the most interesting bit!

Identifying people with dementia is clinically challenging given the non-specific pattern of symptoms associated with it. You’ve recently developed a computerised decision support system called DECODE to help address this. Can you tell us more about it?
It’s a very difficult clinical challenge assessing patients who you may not know well and who are concerned about their memory and thinking, and trying to work out whether they are just ageing normally as no two cases of dementia are exactly alike. If you’re a non-specialist, you may not have seen a patient with a particular combination of signs and symptoms before. So one of the advantages of DECODE, a machine learning-driven system, is that it can learn to recognise patterns in hundreds, thousands, potentially millions of dementia cases and work out what needs to happen clinically to benefit that patient. So it’s the idea it doesn’t get tired or distracted and it’s very consistent. It’s not a completely objective system though, as it captures the human expert decision-making that we used to train it in the first place.