The Neuroimaging of Inflammation in MemoRy and Other Disorders (NIMROD) study is looking at the relationship between memory disorders and inflammation of the brain. Recent technical developments allow the use of brain imaging methods (Positron Emission Tomography or PET scans) together with marked chemicals to visualise sites of inflammation. Other forms of PET imaging can also be used to visualise the location of certain abnormal proteins in the brain regarded as definitive of Alzheimer’s disease. This localisation can be made more accurate by co-registration of the PET images with Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI), which is also valuable to study changes in both the structure of the brain and in the different tissue types in the brain.

Using these techniques, the study team hope to enhance early diagnosis of dementia. They will also explore how addressing neuroinflammation may be used to treat and even prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s as well as to differentiate between different forms of dementia. We got in touch with Chief Investigator, Professor John O’Brien at the University of Cambridge, to find out more.

Professor John O'Brien

Professor John O’Brien

What are the main aims of the Nimrod study?

The main aim of the study is to use a new form of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) brain imaging to investigate the possible role of inflammation in the brain as an important factor in either causing or worsening memory problems and dementia in older people. This is important because if we find inflammation is important, we can develop and target treatments to reduce it.

Post-mortem studies have shown that many of the disorders of the over-50s that affect cognitive functions, particularly those involving memory, are associated with signs of inflammation in the brain.  Similar studies have also found associations with certain kinds of damaged protein, within and/or between the brain’s nerve cells.  Our study makes use of recently-developed brain scanning techniques to study these associations in living participants.  We can make a more detailed and better-focused examination of these associations and also relate them to the results of standard cognitive tests carried out at relevant points in time.

What does it involve for a participant?

MRI-V0On entry to the study, participants have a set of assessments of memory, language and other cognitive functions, usually in their own home, and we ask them to come for a MRI scan to study their brain structure, and one, two or three PET scans to measure the distribution and amount of inflammation and (depending on the current diagnosis)  scans to identify altered proteins in the brain.

The clinical and memory assessments, but not the scans, are repeated annually for the duration of the study.

How long is the study for? / Is it a one-off visit?

Most of the study assessments and all the scans are completed on entry to the study, over 1-4 visits as needed and according to the wishes of participants. We would then like to see people annually, for up to 3 years. The study is currently funded until the end of March 2017.

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

We are gaining a more accurate understanding of how the presence and distribution of inflammation and damaged proteins are predictive of disease processes affecting the brain.

Where is the study based?

The study is based in Cambridge but only brain scanning needs to be conducted there. Other assessments can be undertaken in the person’s home, if they wish.

Why are you interested in dementia research?

Dementia is a common and devastating illness, affecting over 800,000 people in the UK with numbers set to double in the next 30 years. As well as the great impact it has on patients and their families and carers, it is also very costly; over £26 billion for health and social care. We need to understand more about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia, like vascular dementia, fronto-temporal dementia and Lewy body dementia, and to develop and test new treatments. Through studies like NIMROD we can better understand underlying brain changes, as well as help to diagnose people at an earlier stage. The early identification of subjects combined with the development of effective disease modifying or preventative strategies is essential for us to make significant progress.


The study is recruiting:

1. those with a diagnosis of:
– mild/moderate Alzheimer’s Disease or
– mild/moderate Lewy Body Disease or
– mild/moderate frontotemporal dementia or
– mild cognitive impairment


2. healthy participants aged 50 or over.

Participants should live in the areas of Cambridge, Peterborough, North Essex, Norfolk or Suffolk and be willing to come to Cambridge for assessments and to have up to 4 brain scans.

two-people-discussing-V02You can see if you are eligible for this study – and others around the nation by logging into your Join Dementia Research account. If you haven’t yet registered with Join Dementia Research, why not sign up today?