Monday, 11 June 2012

Dr Sharon Abrahams Interview

Dr Sharon Abrahams is a Senior Lecturer in Human Cognitive Neuroscience & Clinical Neuropsychologist at the University of Edinburgh. Her current post has three roles, which are:

a) Research into i) the cognitive and behaviour changes which are found in a proportion of people with MND using cognitive interviews and brain imaging and ii) cognitive and behaviour changes in people with dementia including Alzheimer's Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD),
b) Teaching Undergraduate and Postgraduate students in Neuropsychology,
c) Clinical Neuropsychology for assessment of dementia to aid in diagnosis and management.
Dr Abrahams first became interested in MND in 1993 when she joined Professor Nigel Leigh's and Professor Laura Goldstein's team at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London. As a postdoctoral researcher, she investigated possible cognitive impairment in MND using cognitive interviews and experimental brain imaging techniques. The area at the time was new and very few researchers were investigating these clinical aspects of the disease. In fact very few people in MND research recognised that cognitive symptoms could be a part of the disease. The impact of what they were finding to the research community, clinical/health professionals, support services and people with MND and carers soon became apparent and so this became an exciting although somewhat controversial area to research. Secondly there was and is an enthusiasm and vigour of the research community within MND which encouraged young researchers to believe they could have an impact on this disease. Thirdly, Dr Abrahams feels that meeting and interviewing all types of people with MND is one of the most rewarding experiences of her work, not only from an academic or clinical perspective but in terms of getting to know people with the disease and how they cope with the challenges they face.

She has continued to research within this field throughout her career and following her move to Edinburgh in 2004, she became a founding member of the Euan MacDonald Centre for MND research. Her interest and the field has grown exponentially and now the link between MND and a type of dementia (FTD) is well established on a cognitive, imaging, clinical, genetic and pathological level.
Dr Abrahams believes that this work has foremost helped researchers to understand the disease process better, its relationship to other diseases (FTD) and that the disease is not restricted to the motor system in some people. This has directed further scientific investigation into why there is a link between MND and FTD.

This has helped researchers to understand and adapt for the clinical implications of having cognitive change associated with MND to aid in the management of symptoms. Dr Abrahams says that one of the most rewarding aspects of her work is in education. Informing both health professionals, carers and people with MND of the consequences of having cognitive problems. People repeatedly state that they have been recognising these symptoms in some people with MND for many years and now have an explanation as to why. So for example her work may involve helping a carer to understand why a person with a dementia syndrome may be behaving in a particular way and that the cause of this is their MND.

Dr Abrahams said that the ultimate goal of researchers is to find a cure and it is difficult to say whether this is round the corner or not. A very realistic goal for the immediate future is to find an effective treatment to slow down, stop or even reverse symptoms. This, she believes, will be achievable within the not too distant future.