Welcome Prof James Rowe
By Dr Susan Kohlhaas | Thursday 04 February 2021
Prof James Rowe has joined Alzheimer’s Research UK as the Chair of our forthcoming Strategic Advisory Board.
James is Professor of Cognitive Neurology at the University of Cambridge and a practising consultant neurologist.
We got an insight into James’ work as a researcher and a clinician in a short film he featured in for our Dementia Uncovered campaign.
James will lead a team of experts who will guide our Research Strategy and help to ensure our research programmes have the greatest possible impact. The Strategic Advisory Board will offer high-level advice to Alzheimer’s Research UK and is separate from our Grant Review Board and other expert panels that oversee specific research initiatives.
James and our Research team are currently working to recruit researchers to the Board, making sure it holds the necessary expertise and represents the diverse backgrounds of researchers from across the field.
The Board will work to ensure that donations from our dedicated supporters are used in a way that will deliver the most progress towards reducing the impact of dementia and transforming the lives of the millions of people whose worlds are turned upside down by the condition every year.
I spoke to James about his work, his background and his dogs.
Q&A Prof James Rowe
What will your main responsibilities be for Alzheimer’s Research UK?
My role is to provide expert scientific advice, guidance and communication in any area that helps this extraordinary charity meet its goals. I will be working with the executive team, the scientists funded by ARUK, and those looking to work more on the challenge of dementia. At all times, we’ll be looking ahead to ensure that the charity’s investment in research will have the biggest and quickest possible impact.
What is your day job?
I am neuroscientist and neurologist. My research based in Cambridge focuses on understanding the biological and cognitive mechanisms of different forms of dementia, using this as the basis for new experimental medicine. Every person with dementia is different. Somehow this individual experience of living with dementia needs to be brought together with the rapid advances in basic neuroscience and technology. That way, diagnosis, prevention and cure can be made available to everyone.
What first piqued your interest in science/medicine?
From the age of five, I would join my father once a month on Saturday when he was consultant on call for the Medicine for the Elderly. Eclectic conversations on human behaviour, biology, ageing, ethics, and medicine would flow from the issues raised by each case on the ward round. I am sure it would not be allowed nowadays! But I saw how one could combine compassion and care of vulnerable individuals with an enthusiasm and love of medical sciences. There was no turning back.
How will your experience help Alzheimer’s Research UK in its mission to bring about a life-changing treatment?
It is an exciting time to be in dementia research. But time is short for families, and resources are limited. I want to help the charity’s science realise its potential as fast as possible. The UK has world-class expertise and a unique capacity to join up rapid advances in laboratory-based ‘discovery’ science, with technologies for human research and clinical trials, through to deployment of progress in the NHS. My research experience of multiple dementias, and working with academic, clinical and industry partners, will facilitate the alignment of these research efforts in the UK and internationally – with our goal of prevention and cure.
What do you think is the most exciting area of research at the moment? How will this benefit people?
While treatment for those with dementia is urgently required, we can already look beyond that to the prospect of preventing dementia. For some families where there is a strong genetic cause, trials are already beginning of new types of genetically targeted treatment to halt the disease process years before symptoms begin. This brings real hope for the prevention of these dementias.
How can people with dementia and the public help researchers discover more about the condition?
There are many ways you can help, large and small. Whether you, or your family has direct experience of dementia, or you see the impact it has on others, or you are worried about your own future, you can help research. Be open about the diagnosis, and help dispel stigma.
Look for opportunities to join research – there is something for everyone, from as simple as a postal questionnaire through to taking part in a long-term clinical trial. “Join Dementia Research” is a great place to start. You could also talk about dementia research on social media, or ask your MP what they are doing to support dementia research. As we have all seen in the 2020 pandemic, research delivers results. Together we can make dementia a national priority.
How have you worked with Alzheimer’s Research UK in the past?
Alzheimer’s Research UK is in partnership with the Dementias Platform UK, (DPUK) funded by the Medical Research Council and Industry. As an Associate Director of DPUK, I have worked with ARUK representatives in shaping the research programs. This experience made me want to join the team. The charity has also funded pilot projects and a PhD studentship in my group. From this, I have seen how the quality of engagement with researchers before, during and after study means ARUK gets such exceptional value for the money it invests in research.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have been lucky to have had wonderful role models, and the chance to support brilliant young scientists in turn. But, what I have valued most over the years is the support and encouragement from our patients and family partners in research. Their commitment is inspirational.
What do you enjoy outside of work?
I love to paint, draw and create things from natural materials – especially in the company of my dogs. And of course hygge, in our part Danish family.
What is the one thing you can’t live without?
Did I mention Pippi and Mila my dogs? They keep me sane and are always happy.