Cambridge researchers sweep the board at leading dementia conference

04 April 2019

Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Research Conference 2019

  • Dr Jason Sang wins £2,000 Jean Corsan prize for best paper by an early career researcher
  • Dr Jemeen Sreedharan gets £25,000 research award for Early Career Investigator of the Year
  • Dr Ben Falcon takes share in Rising Star Award with £10,000 for research expenses
  • Dr Thomas Cope also shares Rising Star Award taking £10,000 for research expenses
  • PhD student Fiona Calvert from Wellcome Sanger Institute wins £250 Dick Bell award.

Cambridge-based early career dementia researchers Dr Jason Sang, Dr Ben Falcon, Dr Thomas Cope and Ms Fiona Calvert picked up prestigious awards at the Alzheimer’s Research UK’s 2019 conference in Harrogate last week.

Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading charity funder of dementia research, is also the largest fundraising charity based in Cambridgeshire. The charity has funded over £21 million in the region, including the pioneering ALBORADA Drug Discovery Institute, since awarding its first grant in 1998.

Alzheimer’s Research UK’s first grant was awarded to Prof Michel Goedert, at the University of Cambridge. The 2018 Brain Prize winner, is now supervisor to Dr Ben Falcon, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology who shares this year’s Rising Star Award with fellow Cambridge researcher Dr Thomas Cope.

Dr Jemeen Sreedharan from King’s College London takes home the largest prize, £25,000 in research expenses, for the Early Career Investigator of the Year award. The work recognised by the prize was predominantly carried out at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge.

Wellcome Sanger Institute PhD student, Fiona Calvert also took to the stage to present her research to an audience of leading dementia experts. She was awarded the Dick Bell prize for outstanding science communication at the conference.

Speaking about the large number of awards for Cambridge researchers, Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK with over 8,000 in Cambridgeshire alone. These numbers are set to rise, so we desperately need to see more research to take us closer towards new ways to help people with dementia.

“It’s fantastic to see talented young researchers in Cambridge taking on our greatest medical challenge and producing such high-quality research. Cambridge is a hotbed of science making it an excellent place to carry out cutting-edge research. It’s great to see so many scientists from the region rewarded at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference.

“For every one dementia researcher there are four working to tackle cancer. Increasing the number of dementia researchers is a goal that Alzheimer’s Research UK is working hard to achieve. Investing in early career researchers now is vital to make sure we have the best dementia research leaders of tomorrow and that we can continue to make research breakthroughs possible.”

Jean Corsan Prize – Dr Jason Sang

Based at the University’s Department of Chemistry, Dr Sang found that a protein that builds up in dementia with Lewy bodies, spreads through the brain in a similar way to the prion protein, which is responsible for Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD)

Dr Jason Sang, speaking about his findings as the winner of the 2019 Jean Corsan Prize, said:

“Winning the Jean Corsan prize is the highlight of my career so far. It’s an honour to receive this award and be given an opportunity to present my work to world experts at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference.

“Making discoveries like this requires dedication and if it advances our understanding of the way diseases develop it will get us one step closer to changing people’s lives.”

Early Career Investigator of the Year – Dr Jemeen Sreedharan

Now at King’s College London, Dr Jemeen Sreedharan’s earlier work at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge involved studying a protein that plays an important role in motor neuron disease (MND).

Prior to this, Dr Sreedharan carried out work in the USA using a fruit fly with features of MND. This work helped him identify potential approaches to limit the harmful effects of the TDP-43 protein.

Dr Jemeen Sreedharan, said:

“It is a delight to receive this prestigious award for the research we have conducted into motor neuron disease and frontotemporal dementia. The generous funds I’ve received will have an immediate impact on our progress unravelling these devastating diseases and developing effective treatments.”

Rising Star Award – Dr Ben Falcon

Dr Ben Falcon is an early career postdoctoral researcher at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge.

His recent work revealed the structure a protein called tau, which is a hallmark of diseases like Alzheimer’s. The findings will help researchers develop more targeted drugs against the protein, giving them a greater chance of delivering effective treatments for dementia in the future.

On winning the award, Dr Falcon said:

“I am thrilled to receive the support of Alzheimer’s Research UK with this award. Using electron microscopes to reveal the structure of the tau protein that underlies different neurodegenerative diseases has opened up many new avenues for research. This funding will now enable me to explore this discovery further. This has been an excellent introduction to working with Alzheimer’s Research UK, which I hope will continue.”

Rising Star Award – Dr Thomas Cope.

Dr Cope is a NIHR Clinical Lecturer in dementia at the University of Cambridge. Despite only having recently obtained is PhD, he is well-known within the dementia community as he has spent many years as a cognitive neurologist.

His research bridges the gap between laboratory research into the molecular underpinnings of dementia and clinical trials of potential treatments. Using a variety of brain scanning techniques, his work looks at how the brain codes the information a person sees and hears and how this goes wrong in the diseases that cause dementia.

On winning the award, Dr Cope said:

“It’s fantastic to have been recognised as a rising star by Alzheimer’s Research UK, who have already been supporting my work with funding through the local Research Network in Cambridge. As I begin to build my own research group, the flexibility that the rising star fund provides will make my work more effective and impactful in our shared fight against dementia.”

Dick Bell Prize Winner – Ms Fiona Calvert

PhD researcher Fiona Calvert, whose research is based at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, took to the stage to talk about her work on human genetics. Her findings show that brain immune cells called microglia are key players in Alzheimer’s disease.

She was judged to have given the most engaging talk at the conference, by a panel of scientific communication experts from Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Fiona Calvert, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute said:

“I was over-the-moon to have the opportunity to share my work on the immune system in the brain with scientists at the conference, and was honoured to receive the Dick Bell Prize for my talk. It is fantastic that Alzheimer’s Research UK recognise the importance of communicating our science with this prize.”