Air pollution may be related to heightened dementia risk

Air pollution may be related to a heightened risk of developing dementia, according to research carried out by St George’s and King’s College London.

Air pollution is an established risk factor for heart disease/stroke and respiratory disease, but its potential role in neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, isn’t as clear.The researchers used carefully calculated estimates of air and noise pollution across Greater London to assess potential links with new dementia diagnoses. They looked at patient data on 131,000 Londoners aged 50 to 79, and based on their residential postcodes, the researchers estimated their yearly exposure to air pollutants. These were specifically nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter and ozone, as well as proximity to heavy traffic and road noise, using modelling methods validated with recorded measurements.The health of the Londoners was then tracked over an average of 7 years. During the monitoring period, 2181 patients (1.7%) were newly diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.These new diagnoses were then examined with regard to concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter estimated at the patients’ homes at the start of the monitoring period in 2004.Those living in areas in the top fifth of nitrogen dioxide concentrations ran a 40% heightened risk of being diagnosed with dementia than those living in the bottom fifth. A similar increase in risk was observed for higher particulate matter levels. These associations were consistent and unexplained by known influential factors, such as smoking and diabetes, although when restricted to specific types of dementia, they remained only for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.This is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish cause, and the findings may be applicable only to London. Nor were the researchers able to glean longer term exposures, which may be relevant as Alzheimer’s disease may take many years to develop.Many factors may be involved in the development of dementia, the researchers point out, the exact cause of which is still not known, and while there are several plausible pathways for air pollutants to reach the brain, how they might contribute to neurodegeneration isn’t clear.But Dr Iain Carey, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at St George’s, said; “While these findings need to be treated with caution, they do replicate results from other recent international studies which have suggested a link between exposure to air pollution and dementia. More research is now needed to investigate whether curbing exposure to pollution might be able to delay the progression of dementia.”


Summer work experience scheme expanded to GP surgeries

This summer, our popular healthcare shadowing scheme for year 12 school students was expanded to GPs' surgeries for the first time.

Run by the university’s Widening Participation team in conjunction with St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the scheme provides students who want to embark on health degrees with practical work experience and skills. Financial assistance and support is provided.


Researchers provide compelling evidence for multiple STI-detecting device

Strong evidence in support of a rapid diagnostic test for multiple STI infections has been put forward by researchers at St George’s.

Using mathematical modelling, researchers within the Applied Diagnostics Research and Evaluation Unit at the university concluded that a bespoke point-of care diagnostic device could significantly reduce the number of return clinical visits and the average time-to-cure from about a week to one day.


Research trial aims to reduce major cause of birth disabilities

Researchers are beginning recruitment in a trial to see if changing pregnant women’s hygiene habits could reduce the risks of a major cause of childhood disabilities.

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is the most common congenital infection in the UK, affecting around 1000 babies every year. If babies are infected while in the womb it can result in serious health problems, such as cerebral palsy, developmental delay and hearing loss.


A medical applicants’ guide to Clearing and Adjustment

Medicine is one of the most competitive university courses to apply for. At St George’s, University of London alone, we received 10 applications for every place on our undergraduate medical degree last year. So, it’s no surprise that many applicants with the potential to be great doctors don’t get a place straight away. We’ve put together some options for you if you applied to medicine but aren’t holding a place.

Whether you didn’t receive any offers or you’ve received your A Level results and it’s not the news you’d hoped for, you don’t have to give up your ambitions. You have plenty of choices, even if you still have your heart set on a career in medicine.

Students study a flayed leg