Protecting dementia research

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a huge impact on all walks of life across the UK. Everyone has been affected.

Our scientists are no exception. As a result of COVID-19, 95% of researchers told us they have had projects and trials delayed because of the virus, with one in five having had research projects cancelled completely.

Dementia research is the way to bring new hope to people with living with the condition, who can be some of the most vulnerable in our society.

We must not let one health crisis prolong another. Our scientists have been making amazing advances, but their research has not been immune to the impact of the pandemic.

We are taking urgent action to get dementia research back on track.

Introducing the COVID-19 support fund

We have been inspired by the resilience and dedication of our scientists, who have done all they can to keep their research going.

selfies of scientists

Our dedicated scientists are doing their best to keep projects going

However, some of our projects have been disproportionately affected by the ongoing restrictions.

Thanks to our incredible supporters, we’ve been able to provide a support package to researchers facing exceptional circumstances to help protect dementia research. This funding will ensure that scientists can complete vital dementia research projects that have been affected by the pandemic. Their findings will add important pieces to the puzzle, helping us find life-changing treatments, preventions and diagnostics.

So far, we have awarded over £245k to 14 ongoing research projects.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research:

Protecting ongoing dementia research is crucial. We owe it to our supporters, our scientists and all those affected by dementia to make sure we see results from the research projects we have committed to funding. With this extra support we will see the completion of research studies, which many feared would not have been possible a year ago.”

Why do researchers need our support?

Disruption of experiments

The closure of labs has delayed key experiments and some vital research tools could not be maintained during the lockdown.

Some experiments require months of preparation, and in some cases the final stages couldn’t be completed when labs were shut down. This has added significant time to projects, with experiments needing to be started from the beginning when labs reopened.

Research using animals, such as mice, is important for dementia research. This research is tightly regulated, and animals are only used where there is no other option. The shutdown of labs led to additional costs for the projects that work with animals, such as the cost of looking after these animals during lockdown.

Also, some of the chemicals used in experiments have a short shelf life and had to be reordered when labs reopened, adding an extra cost.

Pausing in-person assessments

In-person visits for clinical research were on pause for several months, and recruitment to clinical trials for potential new dementia treatments was put on hold.

Supporting Dr Angelika Zarkali

One of the scientists that this change impacted was Dr Angelika Zarkali.

Dr Zarkali is investigating the mechanisms underpinning visual hallucinations in dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease. Increasing our understanding will help detect and manage this complex symptom.

An important part of Dr Zarkali’s research is analysing MRI scans of people living with DLB and Parkinson’s. While the team quickly adapted the project to do as much testing as possible remotely, the in-person visits that are essential for brain scans had to be suspended for several months.

Dr Zarkali adapts her project to work from home

Dr Zarkali adapts her project to work from home

Extending Dr Zarkali’s project by four months will mean that the team can collect this data in a COVID-secure way. These brain scans will help determine if there are differences in the way brain areas are connected in people who experience hallucinations.

Lack of other support for salary costs

lab scene with one scientist

COVID-19 restrictions limit the number of people that could be in the lab. Only one person could be in this space at one time.

Some researchers, including PhD students, were not eligible for the furlough scheme. While they could read about the latest research, analyse data, and write about their discoveries from home, crucially they could not go into the lab to perform vital experiments. This has impacted project timelines.

Although most researchers are now back in the lab, social distancing measures currently mean that they are unable to work at the pace they once did.

Supporting Paula Lobo

Paula Lobo is one of our PhD students who was impacted. She is investigating a protein called P2X7 that helps regulate inflammation in Alzheimer’s. In Alzheimer’s, inflammation in the brain can cause more harm than good.

The support package will give her time to finish experiments investigating if drugs targeting P2X7 could help limit nerve cell damage. Learning more about P2X7 could pave the way to future treatments.

Looking to the future

There’s a lot that’s uncertain beyond COVID-19. Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, we have been able to take urgent action to protect dementia research.

With your support, we will continue to fund researchers to change the narrative when it comes to dementia.

Together, we will make breakthroughs possible.



About the author

Claire Bromley