Press release

Pioneering dementia research by Dundee scientist provides fresh approach

Published on 15 January 2024

A neuroscientist based at the University of Dundee is conducting pioneering research into dementia using world-leading technology and a fresh approach.

On this page

Dr Amy Lloyd is studying brain behaviour in patients with Alzheimer’s disease in a bid to understand how disease pathways are created, and how to stop them.

Her work uses mass spectrometry – a cell analytical technique, rarely used to study dementia due to the high costs associated with the technology.

The School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee is one of a small number of research labs in the UK to contain such equipment, and Amy is one of a handful of scientists using this approach to study dementia.

Her work focuses on the study of microglia cells. These cells are present in everyone and usually perform the function of protecting the brain.

However, when a patient has Alzheimer’s, the microglia ‘turn bad’ and start to cause damage to the brain.

Amy said, “We currently don’t know why the microglia switch from protecting to damaging the brain in Alzheimer’s patients. 

“My research is trying to understand how and why they do that. What changes to make them damaging and what pathways are being activated.

“If we can learn that, then we can treat it to stop these pathways being opened and stop the development of the disease.”

A fresh approach to researching dementia

The use of mass spectrometry allows Amy to look at all the proteins within these cells, study the patterns and therefore understand their behaviour.

She was awarded a five-year research fellowship from Race Against Dementia and Alzheimer's Research UK in May to carry out her work.

During this time Amy hopes to fully understand this cell’s normal and abnormal behaviour, with a view to one day developing new treatments for the condition.

She added, “A build-up of sticky plaques on the brain, called amyloids beta, are known to cause dementia in humans. 

“The microglia can clean them away when they are functioning normally but something happens in Alzheimer’s to stop them doing that and the amyloid proteins stick together and cause damage.

Female scientist in white lab coat and purple gloves carrying out science experiments in a laboratory

“There is lots of research going on into amyloid plaques, but very few people are looking at microglia through the use of mass spectrometry.”

Scientist's passion grew from an early age

Amy, originally from Staffordshire, says her interest in dementia started when she was studying for her undergraduate degree in neuroscience at the University of Nottingham. 

While studying she was also working as a carer for patients with dementia, which she says fuelled her passion to further understand brain disease.

“As a 19 or 20-year old, I was looking after people who used to be independent, had children and grandchildren, and had lived a full life,” she said.

“And they had a young woman like me looking after them – it didn’t feel right. I felt like I wanted to do something about it.

“I knew I wanted to be a scientist and started to think about what I could do to help.”

After completing her BSc in Neuroscience, Amy went on to study an MSc in Oncology, also at the University of Nottingham, before taking up a PhD at the University of Edinburgh.

She studied the role of microglia in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients before turning her attention to dementia in 2019 when she joined the University of Dundee as a UK Dementia Research Institute Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

Amy’s ambition is to one day form her own laboratory and expand on her research into microglia in Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more about the School of Life Sciences


Sheanne Mulholland

Media Relations Officer

+44 (0)1382 385423
Story category Research, Staff