The lasting impact of a missed opportunity for dementia research funding
It’s now two years since the government promised to double dementia research funding to £160 million a year as part of its ‘Moonshot’ manifesto commitment – a commitment that is yet to be delivered. As a dementia researcher at the start of my career I know how essential this funding is if we are to find new, life-changing treatments for dementia. With the issue back on the agenda with a debate in Parliament today, it’s my hope that this helps press the government into taking more ambitious action.
I had hoped that October’s autumn statement would be the moment the government would set out steps to make its promise a reality. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for that moment. But now, with a new Dementia Strategy in development, there is an opportunity to lay out a concrete plan for dementia research over the coming years – including how this research will be funded.
My own journey into dementia research was informed by my experiences with my grandmother and seeing her struggle with the condition. It was incredibly tough knowing there was no medicine available to help her. With almost 1 million people now living with this devastating condition in the UK, we urgently need to change this.
Every day my aim is to answer important research questions that could lead to new treatments and offer hope for the future. Since I’ve been working in this area, I have already seen exciting developments in our scientific understanding of dementia, and this progress is helping us close in on treatments that could stop the diseases that cause it in their tracks.
But being a researcher working through a pandemic comes with its own set of challenges, from lab closures to delayed projects, and uncertainty around funding has magnified these. Many of my friends have already had to make difficult decisions about whether to continue working in dementia research for financial reasons, and a survey for Alzheimer’s Research UK has shown that nearly one in three of the country’s dementia scientists have considered leaving research due to COVID-19. I worry that we are losing out on potential dementia research talent in the UK for the sake of stable funding.
Sustained, increased funding would not just foster individuals in their careers, but create the conditions for them to work collaboratively, look at research questions in different ways and find solutions faster. My funder, Alzheimer’s Research UK, is introducing new ways to support early career researchers to keep scientific talent within dementia research – but this cannot be the role of charities alone, and government support is critical.When we talk about big spending commitments it’s easy to lose sight of what this money could really mean, especially when set against the many competing priorities for our health and care systems. But the promised £160m a year would have a profound impact for those of us on the ground, and for dementia research as a whole. Put simply, it could mean life-changing treatments arriving years sooner, transforming health care, social care, and most importantly, the lives of millions of people.
The forthcoming Dementia Strategy is a prime opportunity to channel investment and resources into the areas that can make the most impact. My fellow researchers and I are committed to doing all we can to bring about new dementia treatments. We are working hard to make up for the time we lost during months of lockdown – but we need government to give us their backing if we are to make breakthroughs possible.