Cardiff team in £170k dementia funding boost

Posted on 25th November 2015

A research team at Cardiff University has been awarded almost £170,000 for a pioneering project to understand the biology of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, funded by the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, gets underway this month aiming to reveal key insights into the devastating disease, which could direct the development of new treatments.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects around half a million people in the UK. With age one of the biggest risk factors, and an increasingly ageing population, the UK is bracing itself for a continued rise in the number of people affected. No new treatments for Alzheimer’s have been licensed for over a decade and researchers are working hard to develop effective new ways to slow or stop the disease in its tracks.

Dr Emyr Lloyd-Evans at Cardiff University is an expert in the complex biology of the cells that make up the human body and wants to use his knowledge to address key unanswered questions in Alzheimer’s disease. The new funding boost will allow him to undertake an ambitious three-year project to study the complex waste disposal and recycling machinery inside cells and how a breakdown in this process could contribute to Alzheimer’s. He said:

“We know that one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s is the build-up of two abnormal proteins in the brain, called amyloid and tau. What we need to understand now is why these proteins build up and how we can stop them. We think that a problem with the recycling system inside cells could mean that these damaged proteins stay around for too long and interfere with how well our brain cells are working. We hope to learn more about how this important process could do wrong and whether correcting it could be an effective approach to treating the disease.”

Dr Lloyd-Evans and Emily Kirkham, who will be undertaking the work in the laboratory, will use state-of-the-art molecular techniques to study cells that have been donated by people with Alzheimer’s. They will study how proteins are removed and recycled from cells and how this waste-management system may go awry in the disease. He said:

“Cardiff University is home to some of the world’s top dementia researchers and we’re very grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for supporting us in continuing to build on this work. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the biggest health challenges facing the country and investment in research is vital if we are to make progress in helping those affected.”

Carolyn Morris from Bryn Hafren, near Cardiff, knows first-hand the huge impact that Alzheimer’s has on a family. Her mum, Mary, lived with the disease for over 12 years. She said:

“Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking disease that nobody should have to experience. Towards the end of Mum’s life she was in specialist care in a home near to me. I visited her practically every day but, sadly, she no longer recognised me and rarely spoke. Just occasionally she would have a flash of clarity and say a word or a sentence, which felt like a miracle.  It’s really encouraging to see new research into the disease here on my doorstep, and I wish the researchers well in their study. I was horrified when I learnt how underfunded dementia research is so we must ensure that more studies like this can get off the ground.”

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

“Alongside the huge personal and emotional costs of dementia, the condition costs the UK economy £24bn a year – more than cancer and heart disease combined. We cannot afford to wait for someone else to find the answers, which is why Alzheimer’s Research UK is investing in the best research across the world. We’re proud to be supporting the team in Cardiff to bring their expertise to dementia research and are grateful to our supporters for making it possible. As a charity, we receive no government funding to support our research. We wish Dr Lloyd-Evans the best in his project, which we hope will provide vital knowledge that can be used to shape new approaches to treatment development for Alzheimer’s disease.”

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