Some of the PREVENT Dementia team had the pleasure of travelling to Chongqing, China in October 2018 to meet collaborators based in the Faculty of Psychology in Southwest University. The visit centred around the official opening of the Sino-Britain Centre for Cognition and Ageing Research. Our collaboration with colleagues in China was first established by Dr Li Su, Alzheimer’s Research UK Senior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, who founded and co-directs the Research Centre with Professor Hong Chen (co-director) and Dr Jianmin Zeng (executive director) in 2016.
Our visit started with a one day International Workshop on Cognitive Ageing and Dementia, opened by the Vice Principal of the Southwest University. This was followed by key note presentations to a packed room from Professor Craig Ritchie and Dr Li Su speaking about brain health and prevention projects in Europe and some of the interesting imaging results found to date in the PREVENT Dementia cohort from West London. Our afternoon kicked off with a tour of the campus and an insight into life as a student at Southwest University. Next up on the agenda we had a focused session to learn about the work Dr Zeng and his students have been doing as part of their dementia prevention research programmes. Through his collaboration with Dr Li Su, Dr Zeng has recruited over 400 undergraduate students to complete a brief set of memory and thinking tasks (including the 4 Mountains Test used in PREVENT Dementia) and 160 of them to undergo the same MRI protocol as we have run in the PREVENT Dementia cohort. All volunteers also provided a genetic sample, information about their lifestyle and diet and family history from parents and grandparents. Currently this data has been collected at a single time point but the team discussed plans to potentially gather follow up data to understand if there are any changes over time in such a young cohort on the memory and thinking tasks and MRI measures. We had some excellent presentations from two of Dr Zeng’s Masters students about their work and plans for future studies.
We finished the day discussing plans to continue and broaden future collaborations, building on this exciting first in-person meeting. It was clear that everyone at the meeting had a real passion to forge a strong alliance that can work towards developing dementia prevention research opportunities across the globe. Particularly interesting discussions included how we can adapt some of the tools we use so that they are culturally valid (such as food questionnaires which may need adaptation to include country specific foods) and ensuring assessments are accessible (such as ensuring procedures like an MRI are not a barrier for a country participating). We hope to have more exciting developments to share over the coming months and years, watch this space…!
We were also lucky to be treated to some sightseeing whilst in Chongqing, a real bonus to see some of the city and surroundings and start to build an appreciation of the culture of the area. The Chongqing conurbation is home to over 30 million people- coming from Edinburgh and Cambridge this was a huge number for us to comprehend and importantly demonstrates how China will be affected in huge numbers by dementia. Something you notice as soon as you drive through Chongqing is that it is a city of mountains- this sparked discussions about how well those who grew up in the area would perform on the four mountains test! We also had the opportunity to try a huge amount of local cuisine, a complete feast at every meal. It was really interesting to see the variety of fresh vegetables used in each meal we had, I don’t think we ate the same dish twice over the 4 days! We also had the opportunity to visit the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are 800 years old and incredibly well preserved, and learn more about the arrival of Buddhism to China.
Overall a fantastic trip to meet our Chinese colleagues and we hope it proves to be the first of many as we look towards developing global answers to the dementia crisis we are all facing. China as the most populated country and second largest economy in the world after the US, it will surely make a significant footprint and contribution to our epic battle against dementia.