Lithium is a naturally occurring element and is present in very low levels in our environment including our drinking water. As a medicine it has been used for many years as a highly effective treatment for disorders of mood but more recently it has been found to exert some effects which may be beneficial to prevent dementia.

MRi brain scan image
Existing research suggests that reducing a brain enzyme called ‘Glycogen-synthase kinase 3’ (commonly referred to as ‘GSK-3’) may possibly be an effective way to prevent dementia. Currently lithium is the only drug available for prescription which can reduce GSK-3 activity.
We caught up with Dr Ashleigh Duthie, Consultant on Old Age Psychiatry and the Chief Investigator on the Preliminary evaluation of Lithium as a GSK-3 inhibitor in MCI study, to find out more:

What are the main aims of the study?

This study is looking to find the lowest dose of Lithium Carbonate which is effective to “switch off” the GSK-3 enzyme activity. We will also be using new techniques to accurately measure the activity of the enzyme in blood.
To do this we will measure the levels of the protein GSK-3 in the blood of people with early memory problems, known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and in healthy people.
These results will be important for the design of a future larger trial to investigate whether Lithium can delay the onset of dementia.

What does it involve for a participant?

small pillParticipants previously diagnosed with early memory problems will be offered a booking appointment where they will be asked questions to check the diagnosis. They will be asked to take lithium tablets orally for 9 weeks and to give blood samples at subsequent appointments.

Participants will be asked to attend a research centre and travel costs will be reimbursed though home visits are also possible if necessary. At the end of the study, participants will also be given the option of having an MRI scan.
Additionally, healthy volunteers will be asked to provide a blood sample once and then again at 12 weeks.

How long is the study for?

For participants taking lithium the study will last for 12 weeks in total and following the booking appointment will involve 8 appointments for blood tests.
For healthy volunteers the study will consist of 1 booking appointment with a blood test then one 15 minute visit 12 weeks later.

Where is the study based?

The study is based in Tayside, Scotland and recruitment is shared with a second site in Oxford. The Tayside research centre is at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.

Who are you looking to take part?

Participants will need to be aged 55 years and over with a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment. Unfortunately we cannot accept individuals with a diagnosis of diabetes to the trial.

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