Welsh researchers taking on an ambitious new research project to uncover risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease are to benefit from £388,920 from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, thanks to a generous donation from Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation.
An international collaboration of leading scientists, headed by Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales Prof Julie Williams at Cardiff University, will undertake the world’s largest piece of genetics research focusing on early-onset Alzheimer’s to date. This major research programme will use DNA samples from 2,400 people world-wide with the disease, and will involve a search for rare genetic variants linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s, which affects people under the age of 65.
By pooling their expertise and resources, researchers in Europe, the US and Australia hope to identify new genetic and environmental factors that influence the risk of Alzheimer’s, and to investigate the relationships between these different factors. By gaining a clearer picture of this complex area, the research could reveal crucial information about different biological processes involved in the disease, potentially aiding the development of much-needed treatments.
The project has already received €3.1m from the EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND) through the Medical Research Council (MRC), and builds on other funding provided by the MRC. An additional £388,920 from Alzheimer’s Research UK will allow the researchers to sequence genes from even more people, opening up the possibility for more risk genes to be identified and increasing the accuracy of the results. The money will also help to pay for expert provision to co-ordinate the many complex research streams involved in the project.
This additional funding for the project from Alzheimer’s Research UK has been made possible by the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, after Iceland Foods chose to donate money generated from the carrier bag charge that was introduced for retailers in Wales in 2011. Over the last three years, the Foundation has raised over £3 million for vital research into Alzheimer’s disease.
Prof Julie Williams, Professor of Neuropsychological Genetics at Cardiff University and Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales, said:
“We’re thrilled to have secured this extra funding, which will allow us to sequence the genes of another 400 people, as well as enabling crucial support to ensure the smooth running of this large-scale project. By searching for rare genetic variants we hope to uncover new information about biological processes that influence our risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Current treatments for Alzheimer’s can help with the symptoms but do not affect the course of the disease – we hope our research will inform efforts to develop more effective treatments to tackle the disease.”
Welsh Government Economy Minister Edwina Hart said:
“This is an extremely significant piece of research which could help develop new treatments for a disease that affects millions of people worldwide. I am delighted that Prof Julie Williams, the Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, is heading the distinguished team of international scientists in this major collaboration. Her contribution to Alzheimer’s research is recognised worldwide which also undoubtedly helps to raise the profile of Welsh expertise within the life sciences sector. It’s also pleasing to note that funds raised in Wales through one of the Welsh Government’s initiatives are helping to support this project.”
Malcolm Walker, Chairman and Chief Executive of Iceland Foods, said:
“We’re delighted to be able to support this important work as part of our commitment to raising money for Alzheimer’s Research UK’s vital research into Alzheimer’s disease. Over the last three years our staff, customers and suppliers have gone to great lengths to support the charity’s work, and we are proud to have been able to make such a significant contribution. We are especially pleased to know that money raised in Wales will be used to support pioneering research in the country.”
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We are proud to be supporting this important research, which will bring together researchers from different disciplines across the globe. This type of collaboration is crucial for driving research forward: it’s important to combine insights from different strands of research in order to gain a more complete understanding of Alzheimer’s. Our risk of developing Alzheimer’s is likely to be down to a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors, and the better we understand these factors the greater our chance of finding ways to intervene. With half a million people in the UK currently living with Alzheimer’s, we urgently need to find treatments that can make a difference.”
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