Norwich researchers awarded £260k for landmark dementia study

Posted on 21st September 2016

A research team led by Prof Chris Fox from the University of East Anglia will benefit from a £260k funding boost from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Announcing the award on World Alzheimer’s Day, the team led by Prof Fox welcomed the funding that will see them shed new light on the factors driving Alzheimer’s disease together with a linked condition, delirium. Prof Fox will lead an international team from Norway, Sweden and Ireland, together with investigators from King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh.

More than 850,000 people in the UK, and over 14,700 in Norfolk, are living with dementia today. The devastating condition is characterised by memory loss, confusion, and personality change which gets worse over time until someone needs round the clock care. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease and while there is currently no cure for the disease, researchers are making headway in revealing key clues to what’s happening in the brain.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity and the University of East Anglia has just joined its UK-wide Research Network, which brings together the brightest minds across the UK to unite efforts to tackle the condition.

The charity is supporting Prof Fox and his team to study the effect of hip fractures on the rate of decline in people with dementia. The award will allow them to build on an existing multi-million-pound study funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) looking at how to improve care and recovery for people with dementia who experience hip fractures (www.perfected.ac.uk). This pioneering project will look at whether people with dementia who experience a hip fracture have faster decline in memory and thinking over time than those who haven’t had a hip fracture, and investigate the factors behind any link.

Prof Chris Fox said:

“There is growing evidence to link the immune system with Alzheimer’s disease and a question around whether damage and inflammation in the body could drive the disease to get worse. We’re going to address this important question by looking at people who have hip fractures. We’re asking: does a hip fracture make a person with dementia decline more quickly in their day-to-day memory and thinking? If the answer is yes, we need to be looking at why and what factors might be driving this decline that could form the basis for new treatments or interventions. This is the first study of its kind to address this question directly in people and we’re excited to be doing such cutting-edge research in Norwich.”

The study involves taking blood and spinal fluid samples from 200 people with dementia while they undergo surgery for hip fracture. The team will then investigate inflammatory molecules in the samples and compare their findings to samples taken from 200 people with dementia who have not had hip fractures and 200 people without dementia who are also being treated for hip fracture. They will explore how levels of inflammation relate to people’s performance on memory and thinking tests and assessments of daily activity at one, three and six months after hip fracture. People will be recruited for the study in England and Scotland, and the team also has access to samples donated by people in Norway.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“This ambitious project is a fantastic example of how researchers can take advantage of existing studies to address important additional research questions. The team in Norwich has shown great foresight in building on a hip fracture study to look at how inflammation could also drive dementia to get worse. The findings from this study have real potential to help us understand how to support people with dementia to help maintain quality of life for longer, as well as providing insights into key processes involved in the disease that could form the basis of future drug discovery efforts. All of our research funding is driven by public donations, so we’re incredibly grateful to our supporters for helping us to fund this important study in Norwich.”

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