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George Freeman MP in Cambridge lab visit to see pioneering dementia research

12/11/2013

George Freeman MP was given an update on the latest innovative dementia research today when he visited a Cambridge scientist supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. The MP for Mid-Norfolk, who has championed life sciences in Parliament and as Government Adviser has been closely involved in shaping the UK Life Science Strategy, took a tour of Dr Rick Livesey’s laboratory at the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge. The visit on Monday 11 November was organised by the Great Abington-based charity.

Dr Livesey and his team are working on a major project using stem cells to study Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, backed by a £350,000 grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK. Using cutting-edge techniques that depend on the Nobel prize-wining research of Prof John Gurdon – the founder of the Institute – the scientists are using stem cells donated by people with a high risk of Alzheimer’s, which can be used to generate networks of functioning nerve cells in the lab. These networks resemble the complex wiring of cells in the human cerebral cortex, which makes up over three quarters of the brain and is damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. Because these stem cell-generated networks suffer similar damage, they provide a valuable tool for studying the disease and testing potential new treatments.

Before becoming an MP, Mr Freeman spent 15 years helping to support innovative biomedical businesses in the Cambridge area. He has continued to back medical research in Parliament, acting as the Prime Minister’s Life Science Advisor until last month.

Mr Freeman said:

“With our ageing society, Alzheimer’s and dementia is a ticking time bomb at the heart of UK Healthcare. Already accounting for £23bn of cost to the UK, the disease has a devastating impact on those affected, and their loved one and carers. The UK is pioneering new treatment and preventative intervention, we need both drugs to treat the disease and ways to delay and prevent onset. The Prime Minister is personally leading the UK’s dementia strategy and with world class research like that here today the UK has every chance of winning.”

Dr Livesey said:

“I was delighted to be able to show Mr Freeman how we’re working to answer some key questions about Alzheimer’s. In order to design effective treatments, it’s important to be able to understand the disease. Our approach is to create a much closer model of what happens inside the brain, and this technique is already allowing us to get a clearer picture of processes that go wrong as Alzheimer’s develops. It’s thanks to backing from Alzheimer’s Research UK that we’ve been able to move this research forward, and we’re hopeful that this work will help bring new treatments closer.”

Hilary Evans, Director of External Affairs at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“We’re very pleased that Mr Freeman joined us for this visit to meet researchers who are working tirelessly in the battle to defeat dementia, which affects 6,000 people in Cambridgeshire alone. At a staggering cost of £23billion a year to the UK economy, dementia affects us all – that’s why research needs the full backing of charities, government and the public.”

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