Two students from Duleek may have helped further research into Alzheimer’s by coming up with a possible early indicator for the disease that may help diagnosis.
Calum Agnew and Seb Lennor are two transition year students from St Mary’s Dicesan School who have investigated the correlation between our memory and our sense of smell for their fascinating project showing at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition at Dublin’s RDS. It secured them third place in their section. Catching up with the pair at the exhibition, they told us about their project and the inspiration behind it.
Callum explained: ‘Our project is an investigation into whether your ability to smell has a correlation between with your long term and short term memory.
‘Something that influenced this project is remembering the time my granddad got alzheimer’s disease. Scientists around the world have suggested that one of the earlier indicator of the onset of Alzheimer’s is the deterioration of smell so we wanted to explore the relationship between smell and memory but not in a conventional way.’
Explaining how they went about conducting the study, Seb said: ‘We carried out three experiments. One for smell, one to test long-term memory and one to test short-term memory.
‘The long-term memory test involved showing each participant a video of ten people each stating three facts about themselves. We showed the video to them three times in early-September then we took the participants back in late December to see if they could recall any information about each of the people in the video.
‘For the short-term memory test we presented participants with 20 random words on a sheet and gave them two full minutes to memorise as many of the words as possible. Then after two minutes they had to recall as many of the words as possible.’
To test their subjects’ sense of smell, the pair introduced three strong scents and gauged how long the participants took to detect the scent. So what did they find out? Callum said: ‘We found a correlation between short-term memory and smell but not long-term memory and smell. We related those findings to our original inspiration for the project, the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and in Alzheimer’s, short-term memory is the first to deteriorate and it continues to deteriorate.
‘Long-term memory is only deteriorated in the later stages and does not deteriorate to the same extent so that might back our speculation that there is a correlation between smell and short-term memory. In our research, we found that in the ability to smell and short-term memory is held in the pre-frontal cortex. So if sense of smell or short-term memory is affected, the pre-frontal cortex may be physiologically different to the same extent.’
Seb said their findings could be used as an ‘early detection method’ for Alzheimers and the boys recommend that testing our sense of smell should be one or the regular health checks we all undergo. Both students are hoping to pursue careers in the sciences and medicine and with this kind of research under their belt at an early age, who is to stop them?