A great start to 2022

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By Nicola Williams | Tuesday 22 February 2022

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our research has been able to continue thanks to our generous supporters. Last year we funded over 70 pioneering research projects, awarding nearly £15 million in funding to make breakthroughs possible. While 2022 has only just begun, we have already got important new initiatives underway as we look to accelerate life-changing research and tackle misconceptions about dementia.

Here are six reasons why we are optimistic about 2022:

Think Brain Health

A new phase of our Think Brain Health campaign has landed!

Originally launched in January 2021, the campaign is designed to raise awareness about how we can all take positive steps to look after our brain health. We hope that people will take action to protect their brain health as they might protect their heart health.

So far, Think Brain Health has had support from scientists, celebrities, and our partner organisations parkrun UK and Duolingo.

Keep connected to protect your brain health

Now in its second year, Think Brain Health is going strong and now includes 40 simple steps to better brain health to help you get started. From learning a new instrument to joining a sports team, there really is something for everyone.

People can try out our new Brain Healthy Habits Quiz where they can find out whether they are a heart health hero, a mental gymnast or a social superstar! There are also updates on the latest research and blogs exploring risk factors for dementia if you would like to learn more about brain health. With these new Think Brain Health resources, we hope that 2022 is the year you start giving back to your brain.

Our new Early Career Researcher Programme

Early Career Researchers (ECRs) play a critical role in dementia research. Their innovative projects drive dementia research forward, but there are unique challenges for ECRs and areas where they need targeted support.

We’ve worked with researchers at various career stages to develop a programme that aims to help ECRs to develop a successful career in dementia research.

In January 2022, our new ECR Portal went live. This is a central hub with resources dedicated to ECRs – from funding and networking opportunities to public engagement and career development advice. Our researchers have shared their experience as ECRs to encourage others to keep up their excellent work despite the challenges that science can bring.

The launch of our ECR strategy is a fantastic follow-up to the support our ECRs received in 2021. Race Against Dementia, the organisation founded by Sir Jackie Stewart, pledged £2 million to support four outstanding ECRs across the UK.

The UK Dementia Research Institute also introduced its Emerging Leaders Initiative allowing selected ECRs to pursue their passion for dementia research with support from senior UK DRI group leaders.

New Year, New Projects

In January 2022, we held our first Grant Review Board meeting of the year. This is where our panel of leading dementia researchers review and vote on which research projects will be funded in the year ahead.

They evaluated many applications for exciting research exploring the causes of dementia and innovative ways to detect, prevent and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s. We are excited to see which projects will be funded this year, so look out for new additions to our research projects home page later in the year!

Our in-person Research Conference is back!

We are kick-starting March with our Research Conference in Brighton. We had to cancel our 2020 conference, and last year researchers joined us virtually. With our first hybrid conference just around the corner, we are looking forward to welcoming delegates back in person and online.

The programme includes research talks on a variety of topics, from links between psychiatric conditions and dementia, how gut health can affect risk, and the latest progress towards new detection techniques like blood tests, brain scans and wearable technology.

Transforming early detection

2022 is an exciting year for our Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) initiative. EDoN is a global collaboration between dementia researchers, technology experts and data scientists to develop a digital toolkit for detecting early signs of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The current EDoN toolkit includes two smartphone apps, a Fitbit and a sleep headband, which were used to collect the first physical and cognitive activity data from a small number of volunteers in 2021. Researchers hope that data from a much larger volunteer group will reveal a digital data ‘fingerprint’ for diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

In July 2021, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) announced they would contribute up to $2 million to support EDoN. This was excellent news for the initiative. Support from ADDF means that during 2022, EDoN researchers will be able to start gathering and analysing data from hundreds of volunteers in Australia.

The search for new life-changing treatments

In 2021, the dementia research news was dominated by the decision by the US regulator, the FDA, to approve a licence for the Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab. This was followed by the European Medicines Agency’s decision to refuse a licence for the drug in December.

While aducanumab can clear amyloid proteins from the brain, the European regulators judged there was not enough evidence that it benefited people’s lives. There were also concerns about potentially harmful side effects.

Despite the uncertainty around aducanumab, initiatives like the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance have been making exciting progress towards new treatments. Across our network, we’re now exploring over 20 different drug targets against different forms of dementia.

For example, Prof Paul Fish at University College London has identified a chemical compound that could help restore proper blood-brain barrier function in people with dementia. This is an important layer of protection that starts to break down in diseases like Alzheimer’s. We’ll keep you up to date with the latest developments in the months ahead.

Thank you for your support!

Your support makes our work possible. We could not have made it this far without you, and we hope that you will continue to support us in 2022. With your help, we have the power to make breakthroughs possible.

Donate today to help transform lives

About the author

Nicola Williams