More white coats: capacity boost the only answer to UK dementia crisis

More white coats: capacity boost the only answer to UK dementia crisis

Posted on 24th January 2012

Download Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Defeating Dementia report here.

Alzheimer’s Research UK has challenged Government to avoid flash in the pan tactics on dementia research and commit to a national dementia research strategy. In a new report – Defeating Dementia – the UK’s leading dementia research charity warns that the UK’s world-renowned dementia knowledge base could be lost unless scientists have better opportunities to enter and remain in the field.

The Defeating Dementia report is launched at a House of Commons event, chaired by BBC 5 Live’s Shelagh Fogarty, on Wednesday 25th January. The event also features Alzheimer’s Research UK patron Sir Terry Pratchett, the Department of Health’s National Clinical Director for Dementia Prof Alistair Burns, and 50 leading dementia scientists. It is sponsored by Cambridge MP Julian Huppert.

Numbers of people living with dementia are spiralling towards one million as the population ages, costing the economy over £23billion. With the limited treatments available only alleviating some symptoms, pressure remains on research to deliver new drugs, preventions and improved diagnosis. However, a history of underinvestment has left dementia research undermanned and underfunded.

Recent initiatives from Government and other research funders have helped, with one-off themed calls for dementia research and some increases in investment. However, the field is still dwarfed by provision for research into cancer and heart disease both of which do not pose the same degree of challenge to society and the economy. For every dementia scientist, over six work in cancer.

The Defeating Dementia report outlines 14 recommendations to the Government and all research funders to help boost capacity and create a research environment better suited to the challenge posed by dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK believes a national dementia research strategy should encourage ring-fencing of funding for dementia research; greater flexibility and calculated risk taking to foster innovation; boost research to improve disease understanding and accelerate treatment development. The charity is also calling for a simplification of funding applications, and the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy which comes at the expense of productive research time.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“It is right that we pay serious attention to the care challenge that dementia poses today and tomorrow, but we can’t just paper over the cracks. The only answer to dementia lies in research that will deliver new treatments and preventions.

“Government and other funders have taken some positive steps towards boosting research efforts in the UK, but we can’t rely on flash in the pan tactics. Through our recommendations, we are challenging all funders to take an essential long term view on dementia research. If we can’t boost the number of scientists working on dementia, then we will fail the 820,000 living with dementia today, and we will be powerless to avert the looming increases in prevalence.”

Prof Julie Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser to Alzheimer’s Research, said:

“Investing in our high-achieving UK scientists is the only answer to dementia: our brains depend on theirs. It is clear from this report that we do not have enough scientists working in the dementia field to meet the colossal challenge it poses to society.

“We must not only support our current world-leading scientists, but also encourage new brains into the field, with new ideas and expertise to add to our armoury. We have to remove bureaucratic barriers to research so we can foster the right environment for scientists to thrive.”

Jamie and Vicki Graham, who are Champions of Alzheimer’s Research UK, are heading to Westminster to support the charity. This is a subject very close to the Chippenham couple’s hearts as Jamie was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s five years ago at just 59.

Vicki said:

“Watching Jamie slowly deteriorate in front of me is incredibly painful. But he has tremendous courage and he’s never lost his sense of humour. Our whole world was ripped apart when he received the diagnosis and we were shocked to discover the lack of investment into research.

“We have to face what’s happened and we’ve made it our mission to do everything we can to help Alzheimer’s Research UK. More scientists and support for their work are desperately needed to make strides towards defeating dementia. It’s devastating to think that existing dementia knowledge could be lost. If we can encourage more people to get behind our dementia scientists, to help them find new treatments and one day a cure, then Jamie’s experience won’t have been for nothing.”

The full Alzheimer’s Research UK Defeating Dementia report is available here.

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