Cardiff researchers in £50k dementia funding boost

Posted on 12th May 2015

A research team at Cardiff University has welcomed a £50k funding boost for their dementia research from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. The funding will support a project that gets underway this month to understand more about the role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The two-year research project will shed more light on how the body’s strongest weapon against infection and disease – the immune system – could turn from friend to foe in Alzheimer’s disease. While the immune system normally plays an important part in protecting our body from harm, recent studies have suggested that it can become over-active in Alzheimer’s and make the disease worse.

The team will study two aspects of the immune system in mice bred to develop features of Alzheimer’s disease. They will look at a type of immune cell called microglia and a collection of proteins called the complement system. The complement system is one of the first responses to damage or infection and can attract cells like microglia to the site of damage. The job of microglia is to eat up damaged cells and release inflammatory messengers into the environment to maintain the immune system on high alert until the threat is gone.

Prof Paul Morgan at the School of Medicine, who will lead the study, said:

“Research over the past few years has been pointing towards the immune system as a key culprit in Alzheimer’s, but we urgently need to learn more about what happens on a molecular level. There is growing evidence that this defence mechanism kicks in during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but that the constant state of high alert driven by microglia can take its toll and start to damage nerve cells.”

The team will use a range of molecular techniques to study these two important processes in mice. They will use genetic techiques, as well as treating the mice with compounds designed to dampen the immune system, to see what effect this has on Alzheimer’s disease. The project will help researchers to deduce which aspects of the immune system contribute most to Alzheimer’s and provide clues to whether treatment approaches to keep these processes in check could be a promising avenue of research in people.

Prof Morgan, said:

“We’re incredibly grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK and their supporters for funding our research, which we hope will help us to understand what’s happening in the brain in Alzheimer’s. There is a desperate need for new treatments for people with dementia and we hope this pilot study will provide a platform for us to build on our findings to shape the search for new and effective approaches.”

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Untangling the complex biological processes driving diseases like Alzheimer’s is crucial for developing approaches to treatment that have the best chance of being effective. This study in mice is an important first step on the road to developing new approaches to treat or manage the disease in people.

“This is time-consuming and technically demanding research and we’re pleased to be able to support the team in Cardiff. We are currently funding more than £22m of groundbreaking research across the UK and, as we don’t receive any government funding, it’s all thanks to generous donations from the public. There are almost 4,000 people in Cardiff alone living with dementia so research into the condition is vital.”

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