College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Paving the Way for Dementia Prevention

This month’s staff focus sheds light on Professor Craig Ritchie and his team’s efforts to pinpoint the factors that affect the development of dementia.

Professor Craig Ritchie

Dementia is a condition that affects around 800,000 people in the UK and millions more worldwide. By trying to identify at an earlier stage the different factors which can affect its development, Professor Craig Ritchie is leading research that could mean being able to modify risk or treat the earliest signs of disease.

Expanding expertise

Professor Ritchie is currently Professor of the Psychiatry of Ageing at the University of Edinburgh having moved from his role as Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Mental Health at Imperial College London in October 2014.

The Edinburgh appointment was a return to Scotland for Professor Ritchie who started his medical education further north in Aberdeen, gaining his MBChB in 1991, before spending an extended period in London completing psychiatry training and obtaining his PhD.

Craig’s research, editorial roles and publications have gravitated around the prevention of dementia from an epidemiological (how disease spreads and how it can be controlled) and trials perspective.

One of his main research projects is the PREVENT study which is exploring mid-life risks and expression of risks in neurodegenerative disease in order to mediate early prevention of dementia.

Historically, we always looked at dementia as being a disease of later life. I think we are now realising that dementia has its genesis in midlife at least or perhaps even earlier.

Professor Craig Ritchie

Identifying new treatments

Professor Ritchie is also the lead for the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia (EPAD) Consortium, an ambitious international research platform to test new medicines that might help people at high risk of developing dementia.

Studies have shown that biological signs of Alzheimer’s disease can be present in the brain decades before the first symptoms of dementia appear. The Consortium’s objective is to investigate the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, characterise risk and then invite those at highest risk to participate in clinical trials in order to identify new treatments which might help in the progression of the disease.

All the while, Craig is also an honorary consultant with the Lothian Health Board and a visiting professor at Imperial College London. On a national level, he is part of the Scottish Dementia Research Consortium Executive, MRC Dementia Platform (DPUK) Steering Group, and Brains for Dementia Research Management Group.

Increasing public awareness

Craig was recently interviewed by Dr Michael Mosley for the BBC 2 programme Trust Me, I’m a Doctor, which aired on 15 July 2015. In the programme he explains that there are multiple factors and different diseases that can lead to having dementia and it is very difficult to identify precisely the immediate cause. One of the big risk factors identified was having diabetes. Amongst all the causes there are also protecting factors such as maintaining a healthy diet and taking regular exercise.

Dr Michael Mosley interviews Professor Craig Ritchie (BBC video, restrictions apply)

To find out more about Craig's work and that of the University's Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, please visit the Centre's website.

Visit the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences website

Related links

£50m bid to tackle dementia (University news)

Support research at the University of Edinburgh by donating to the Edinburgh Fund (secure donation link)