Dr Ellen Dicks: Race Against Dementia Mayo Clinic Fellow, Rochester USA

Race Against Dementia is providing a post-doctoral research position at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. After a global search, Ellen Dicks will join the research team of neurologist David T. Jones, M.D., for three years from Q1 2020.
Ellen is from Amsterdam VUMC, where she has spent the last three years investigating various aspects of brain connectivity and the impact on disease progression.
She will be part of a world-class research team, developing a new disease model of age-associated neurodegeneration within a complex systems framework, using cutting edge multi-modal functional, structural, and molecular neuroimaging and neuropathological data from a large normal aging population and dementia patients.

“I am very excited to join the Race Against Dementia team as a postdoctoral researcher within Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, in collaboration with the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam and, in this way, contribute to accelerating dementia research. My past research has focused on the relationship between brain connectivity loss and disease progression in Alzheimer’s disease. With this fellowship, I am eager to further advance our understanding of the biological basis of brain connectivity.
We still don’t know how measures of brain connectivity change in response to, interact with and have downstream effects on other disease-related processes. This is crucial for further developing these measures as biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, clinical trial development and to better understand the Alzheimer’s disease pathological cascade - with the ultimate goal to prevent brain connectivity loss from occurring.
With the excellent mentorship program, combining both world-leading researchers and industry professionals, this fellowship provides an ideal platform to investigate these questions. I am very grateful to Sir Jackie Stewart and the RAD-Mayo leadership for their vision and being given the opportunity to be part of this team.”

Dr Ellen Dicks

Published 1st May 2020

COVID-19 was declared a pandemic nearly eight weeks ago. In response, we had to change how we live, work and connect with other people in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. But it has also highlighted again how important dementia research is. Individuals with dementia are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their age and common health conditions. Not being able to fully understand or remember safeguard measures increases their risk of infection. And, with social distancing measures in place, they are now additionally faced with increased anxiety and social isolation. In this way, the current pandemic also reminds me yet again of the importance to find a treatment for dementia.

And research into dementia is progressing. Still, for me personally, the plans for my RAD fellowship also had to adapt.

Back in March, everything was set in motion so that I could go to Rochester, MN, in June and start with the RAD fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. With the dramatic increase in cases throughout Europe as well as the US, however, flights were cancelled, travel restrictions put in place, US consulates closed for visa services and so these plans were no longer viable.

Fortunately, I had the incredible support of RAD and the partnering institutions (Mayo Clinic & Alzheimercenter Amsterdam): Talking to dr. Betty Tijms (Alzheimercenter Amsterdam), dr. David Jones (Mayo Clinic) and RAD it was quickly decided that instead of beginning with my fellowship in Rochester I could start at the Alzheimercenter Amsterdam instead. And so, while I am not able to go to Rochester until the pandemic is under control, I am still able to start with our projects for the RAD fellowship.

Concerning my research, I am lucky that nothing much needed to change. As I am working on brain imaging I generally require only a computer to process and analyze the images. I can also still review current dementia research online, analyze data and work on manuscripts. And while meetings are not in person anymore but via Zoom or Skype, this also brings great flexibility. (This year, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) also moves to a virtual event in order for researchers to connect and exchange the latest developments in dementia research.) So, although I am currently not able to go to the office, I can still continue and I am committed to help advance dementia research during this time.