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How your support is helping us keep dementia research going

It is fair to say 2020 has turned the world upside down. As a charity, we are facing up to a 45% shortfall in income as a result of COVID-19, affecting our ability to fund new research this year.

But what has not changed is our vision of a world without the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

We’re committed to redoubling our efforts just as soon as we’re able. But in the meantime, your support is continuing to fund many ongoing studies and major initiatives in dementia research.

It’s research like this that will make our mission to bring about a life-changing dementia treatment for people possible.

Speeding up drug discovery

Made up of three flagship Drug Discovery Institutes at the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and University College London, our Drug Discovery Alliance houses scientists in state-of-the-art facilities.

The aim, to fast-track the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Since launch, they have broken new ground with over 30 approaches to tackle the diseases that cause dementia.

One of these approaches has built on a landmark discovery made by an Alzheimer’s Research UK scientist, which threw the spotlight on the immune system’s role in Alzheimer’s.

The immune system is the body’s army, defending against damage and attack. Microglia are immune cells that would usually clear up waste to maintain a healthy brain environment.

In Alzheimer’s disease, microglia are pushed to their limits and start to heighten damage in the brain, as they are not able to recognise and clear threats posed by the build-up of toxic proteins.

The drug discovery process is like finding the right key for a lock. Our scientist’s initial discovery has now led to 22 potential new drugs targeting the immune system in clinical trials and the search for new treatments in this area is ongoing.

Share the expertise

The Drug Discovery Alliance is at the centre of multiple collaborations with industry and universities – bringing together expertise from across the UK and around the world.

This collaborative approach is the blueprint for Alzheimer’s Research UK drug discovery programmes.

Another programme, the Dementia Consortium allows researchers to search for new drug targets in partnership with pharmaceutical companies and progress the most promising to early stage drug discovery.

Prof Chris Miller from King’s College London is leading one such project. He is working closely with the research organisation Evotec, whose drug discovery expertise will give this project a greater chance of success.

In Alzheimer’s disease as well as other dementias it is thought a protein called TDP-43 builds up in the brain.

Prof Miller has identified the proteins that hold together two structures in nerve cells, which will limit the build-up of a toxic protein.

His project is looking for drugs that target this tether to help stabilise it and slow down the progression of disease.

Like all projects funded by our Dementia Consortium, if successful this project is bringing new potential drugs closer to clinical trials in people.

Earlier detection

The diseases that cause dementia start in the brain, decades before symptoms begin to show.

It’s therefore likely that any new treatment from discoveries made in our Drug Discovery Alliance and Dementia Consortium will need to be given as early as possible. But we currently can only diagnose someone with a disease that causes dementia when someone shows symptoms. To have the best chance of halting the disease, we need to intervene decades earlier, when these diseases first start to take hold. That’s why at the start of the year we launched our Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) initiative.

Our EDoN team have now appointed people in key roles who will lead different aspects of this ambitious project. The team is pulling together lots of information from a number of studies that will ultimately allow us to develop and test a digital device, designed to pick up subtle clues of disease in people who don’t yet have any obvious symptoms of dementia.

Identifying the very earliest changes in these diseases would transform research efforts today, giving us the best chance of stopping these diseases before the symptoms of dementia start to get in the way of life.

Your support

We know that research will help us to overcome dementia and that the continuation of ongoing projects has only been made possible thanks to you. It is your fundraising donations that will help get us research back on track – we want to be able to fund new research as soon as we’re able. Now, more than ever, your backing is crucial.

You can donate here

Want to find out more?

Our dedicated and knowledgeable Dementia Research Infoline team are still here to answer questions about dementia, and about research into the condition.

You can call the Infoline from 9.00-5.00pm Monday to Friday on 0300 111 5 111 or email infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org

About the author

Ed Pinches

Team: Science news