Pick’s disease also known as frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a type of dementia. Dementia prevents some areas of the brain ‘speaking with’ other parts of the brain, much like damaging telephone cables or the internet. This is not only due to physical damage to the brain, but also due to the loss of critical chemicals (called neurotransmitters) that enable brain cells to work together for thinking or action. This study is looking at a new type of brain scanner, called MEG, that measures the tiny electromagnetic signals from brain cells as they work.

We caught up with Professor James Rowe, Chief Investigator on this study, to find out more.

What are the main aims of the study?

This study is looking at how dementia changes the communication between brain cells, and whether restoring the balance of neurotransmitter chemicals can improve brain function in dementia. We are using a commonly used medication called ‘Tiagabine’, which is normally used to help people with epilepsy, but we are examining whether it will help thinking and decisions in patients with dementia. An important part of the study is to compare the effect of the medication in people with dementia to the effect seen in healthy people without dementia. We look at the MEG data alongside memory tests and reaction times.

Professor James Rowe, Chief Investigator on this study

Professor James Rowe, Chief Investigator on this study

What does it involve for a participant?

A full information leaflet would be sent to you on request, but in brief, the study involves two visits to Cambridge, usually around 2 weeks apart.

On one visit, volunteers (patients and healthy volunteers) take a tablet with a medication and on the other visit, volunteers take a dummy pill, with no medication in it. This means we can compare the effects of the real medication fairly. Visits take around 5 hours in all, but this time includes lots of breaks, and refreshments. We start the day at Addenbrooke’s hospital where we complete some straightforward memory tests, take the tablet and have lunch. After lunch we get a taxi to the Medical Research Council’s Cognitive and Brain Sciences Unit (CBU), where the MEG scanner is situated. During scanning, volunteers complete a series of short, easy tests and watch a DVD. Each of the study days will be identical – with the exception that one of the tablets will be real, and the other will be a dummy pill. You won’t know which is which – and we won’t either. This keeps us from influencing our results in any way, making the quality of the results better.

How long is the study for?

The study takes around 5 hours for each of the two visits. We provide rest areas and refreshments during the day and we’ll arrange taxis to get you to and from home unless you would prefer to come with a friend or partner/spouse. We ask people not to drive home afterwards. You will also be reimbursed at 10pounds per hour for each visit.

What do you hope the outcomes of the study will be?

The main outcome will be greatly improved knowledge of how we might be able to help restore brain circuits in a dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD, previously called Picks disease). This would be a great step forward in linking together what we already know about FTD. We believe that understanding which types of brain cells are affected – and how they link up – will provide us with new ways for clinical trials of new medication.

Where is the study based?

The study is based at University of Cambridge Department of Clinical Neurosciences, and participation takes place at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (Addenbrooke’s) and the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, both in Cambridge. Parking is available on the site free of charge for participants if you are being driven by a friend or spouse, or ask the study team about our arranging transport for you.

Who can take part in this study?

This study is recruiting healthy participants and people with a diagnosis of Pick’s Disease through Join Dementia Research.


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You can see if you are eligible for this study, as well as others around the nation, by logging into your Join Dementia Research account.

Not registered with Join Dementia Research? Why not sign up today?