My doctoral research revealed early impairments in brain health in young adults at a genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease, and I am looking forward to taking this to the next stage with Lifebrain-interview with Sana Suri, Lifebrain researcher at the University of Oxford, also member of the Lifebrain science communication team. Sana Suri has just recently been awarded Alzheimer’s Society Prize in the UK, named "Rising Star in Dementia Research".

What is your field of research in Lifebrain

I study risk and resilience factors for cognitive decline within the Whitehall II Imaging cohort in Oxford. My research combines multi-modal neuroimaging methods to investigate how the brain changes with age, with a specific focus on how the brain’s vascular health is affected by genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. I am also a member of the Lifebrain science communication team, which engages with researchers, policy makers, and the public to disseminate project results and enhance public health strategies.

What was your motivation for getting engaged in brain research?

I was drawn into the field of neuroscience during my undergraduate days in Singapore, when I came up close with a brain cell in action - hearing the cell respond to a stimulus and fire signals to other cells. I was fascinated by how much - but at the same time how little - we know about the brain. I later moved to Oxford to study how connections between different parts of the brain are altered as we age. My doctoral research revealed early impairments in brain health in young adults at a genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease, and I am looking forward to taking this to the next stage with Lifebrain.

What do you find most interesting in the Lifebrain project?

I am excited to be part of a large, multi-centre project that brings together expertise from different countries. Lifebrain exemplifies how collaboration and diversity are central to advancing scientific research. Combining studies from different universities will not only allow us to study the brain in greater detail than before, but it will also enable us to tackle some of the hurdles that researchers face today, like the challenges of reproducibility, harmonization of data across centres, and sharing of data for a more efficient use of resources.

What is the most burning scientific question in your opinion in our times (in your field of brain research?)

We are living in an ageing society where soon the number of people over the age of 60 will far exceed those under 14. A lot of the biomedical research so far has focused on extending our lifespan and increasing the quantity of life, without an equal appreciation of how we can maintain quality of life. One of the biggest challenges of our time will be to understand the mechanisms of brain maintenance or resilience in older ages; what factors allow some people to lead relatively long and healthy lives, while others are vulnerable to cognitive decline? Lifebrain’s comprehensive dataset will allow us to combine genetic, lifestyle, and environmental data with measures of brain health so we can answer some of these questions.

What can people do for their brain health? 

While there is no precise answer for this (just yet!), the latest research supports the idea that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. There is a substantial overlap in the risk factors for heart disease and dementia, for example high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes. About a third of the risk for dementia may be modifiable and we’re gradually seeing that regular exercise, sleep, social engagement, intellectual stimulation and a healthy diet contribute to brain health as we grow older.    

Published Aug. 16, 2017 9:50 AM - Last modified Nov. 25, 2019 3:52 PM