A year in the life of Alzheimer’s Research UK

And what a year it has been!


We kick-started 2016 with a bit of zest. #sharetheorange used a simple idea to convey a message that is anything but simple. With the help of Christopher Eccleston, we used an orange as a visual metaphor to tackle the misunderstanding surrounding dementia, emphasising that dementia is caused by physical diseases of the brain. This fundamental fact means one very important thing – dementia can be defeated, and what is more, research will be the one to pack the citrus punch.

Also in January, our funding helped researchers from the University of Southampton find that blocking brain inflammation improves memory in mice. Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola and his colleagues are now building on their findings thanks to funding from the Dementia Consortium – a unique drug discovery collaboration between Alzheimer’s Research UK, MRC Technology and five pharmaceutical companies.


Join Dementia Research – a nationwide research register connecting people with researchers ­– celebrated its first anniversary. This register has gone from strength to strength, and now plays host to over 25,000 volunteers willing to help important studies to get off the ground. Could you join them?


For Alzheimer’s Research UK, March was about bringing people together. We held the largest dementia research conference in the UK, providing a platform for nearly 500 researchers to talk about their ideas and allow collaborations to form.

We also helped to unite people with rarer dementias by funding Rare Dementia Support. This is a collection of support groups offering social and emotional support and providing information and research opportunities to families affected by less common dementias.


This year, we had over 220 supporters stretch their legs in the Virgin Money London Marathon, together raising a staggering £475,000. This total was helped in no small part by Ehud Eliashar, an equine surgeon running his first ever marathon, who raised an impressive £60,000. Thank you to everyone who took part!


We joined forces with Deutsche Telekom to launch Sea Hero Quest, a smartphone game where two minutes of play equates to five hours of dementia research. The game has already had a staggering 2 million players and is helping researchers learn more about our spatial navigation, shedding light on this lesser-known symptom experienced by people with dementia. Read more about the first results of this research.

Our success in using technology to break down barriers in dementia continued with the release of our virtual reality experience, A Walk Through Dementia. This unique experience, highlighted by the BBC, allows you to view the world through the eyes of someone with dementia, challenging common misconceptions about the complex symptoms of the condition.


We awarded our first ever trial through our Global Clinical Trials Fund, looking at whether fish oils or aspirin could impact memory and thinking or delay dementia. Prof Jane Armitage at the University of Oxford has received £155,000 to kick-start this pioneering study in people with diabetes – a project that will last for 6.5 years.

Also in June, our funding helped a research team at King’s College London, led by Dr Diane Hanger, reveal that a drug called phenylbutyrate can block the action of the hallmark dementia protein tau in mice. The findings pioneered a new approach to studying the protein in mice, helping make progress for scientists across the world who are working to tackle its harmful effects.


We attended the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), the largest dementia research conference in the world. We heard about exciting developments within dementia research and shared them with you on the blog. This year, the hot topics were the immune system, risk reduction and the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease.


At the start of the month we launched a long-term partnership with Wickes, who are aiming to raise an amazing £1m for Alzheimer’s Research UK. They got off to a flying start, having already raised over £250,000!

Later this month, we were incredibly grateful to receive a £1m legacy – an exceptionally generous gift from Lilian Sully, who remembered Alzheimer’s Research UK in her Will. The gift, in memory of Lilian’s husband Joe, will help bring our scientists closer to finding new ways to tackle dementia with Lewy bodies and other dementias.


The early results of an experimental treatment, aducanumab, captured the interest of the media. Larger trials on the horizon was welcome news to many people currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, and calls to our Dementia Research Infoline about taking part in research soared, with 156% more calls than August.

The news about aducanumab was complemented by the release of our report, Treatments of Tomorrow: Preparing for breakthroughs in dementia. The report argues that challenges in England’s healthcare system may pose problems for the roll-out of future disease-modifying treatments for dementia. We set out key challenges that should be tackled now to pave the way for future scientific advances that could improve diagnosis, treatments and care.

In September, two of our research projects also announced new results. Prof Patricia Salinas and her team at UCL revealed important new findings unlocking a key mechanism behind brain connectivity and memory. Prof Seth Love led a team at the University of Bristol who developed a new set of guidelines to study brain changes in vascular cognitive impairment, helping to streamline research into the condition across the globe.


Our successful Running Down Dementia challenge came to a close. Running Down Dementia challenged participants to run 100km over the summer to raise £100 for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

By 31 October, just under 4,000 amazing runners had travelled 337,000km, raising over £220,000 to fund our groundbreaking scientists. With so many people smashing their targets, the challenge’s success could not have been achieved without the community spirit and level of support the runners gave each other along the way.


November was a particularly exciting month for Alzheimer’s Research UK, with our powerful Christmas campaign hitting screens across the country. Our Santa Forgot animation has been met by an overwhelmingly positive response from the public, and we continue to be humbled by the way in which our work resonates with people. Your support drives us to not only fund world-class research to defeat dementia, but to raise awareness, improve understanding and challenge the stigma that surrounds this devastating condition. To defeat dementia, we all have to think differently, and this campaign helps us to do that.


To round off the year, we saw the Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute announced as world-renowned Belgian scientist Prof Bart De Strooper. In May, we committed £50m as a founding partner of this institute – the largest single investment in research in the charity’s history. The £250m institute will be based at UCL and link in with centres across the UK. It’s funded by MRC in partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society. It will unite world-leading expertise to drive forward treatment development and improve diagnosis, as well as focusing on new approaches to care provision and prevention and we’re really excited for the potential it holds.

Research round up

Despite the fantastic successes we have seen in other areas of the charity’s work this year, we have also continued to excel in our main area of expertise – the funding of groundbreaking dementia research. This year we have funded 64 new projects – 70% more than last year – and your donations have helped to fund research that has produced 108 scientific papers published this year.

Thanks to you, our work will continue to reach new heights. To help us fund the crucial discoveries of 2017, you can donate online today.

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About the author

Catherine McKeever

Team: Science news