Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and frontotemporal lobar degeneration are leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The majority of patients suffer from “complex” forms of these diseases: a combination of many components – potentially millions of genetic and non-genetic factors – resulted in a person’s brain becoming affected by such a disease. Given their complex nature, researching these diseases requires advanced techniques that can disentangle the multitude of factors underlying neurodegeneration.
The aim of the UNITED consortium is to use cutting-edge magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods that measure the brain’s structure and function at the highest resolution. This will be used to answer important questions: What does the Alzheimer’s disease brain look like? Can you distinguish between different forms of neurodegenerative disorders? Does someone’s brain hold information that can predict his or her future risk of disease? These and many more questions can only be definitively answered if we pool resources together globally, and UNITED is a platform to facilitate such research.
So far, the majority of studies are performed in persons from Western Europe and North America, but studying ethnically diverse populations has been shown to provide deeper insights by taking advantage of natural differences across groups. Therefore, we are explicitly looking to strengthen collaborations with researchers from currently underrepresented regions, including South America, Africa, and Asia. Together, we can start to unravel the complexity of neurodegenerative diseases and pave the way for a better future for treatment and prevention.