Dementia research in Southampton gets £200,000 charity boost

08 June 2020

Today (Monday 8 June) the UK’s leading dementia research charity announced that research in Southampton has been given a £200,000 funding boost. While Alzheimer’s Research UK estimates it could be facing a potential drop in income due to COVID-19 of up to 45%, the charity is committed to funding science in the region.

Dementia affects over 850,000 people in the UK, including around 20,000 in Hampshire alone. People with dementia experience memory loss, confusion, personality changes and gradually lose the ability to manage daily life. The condition is caused by physical diseases in the brain and recent evidence shows dementia is also linked to a higher risk of severe COVID-19.

With only limited treatment options currently available for people with dementia, Alzheimer’s Research UK is backing scientists at the University of Southampton, who are working hard to understand the causes of the condition and investigate better treatment options.

Over £200,000 of investment from Alzheimer’s Research UK will fund two pioneering research projects. In a £100,000 project, Prof Delphine Boche at the university will look at the role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s disease. Prof Boche is particularly interested in brain defence cells known as microglia.

Microglia act like vacuum cleaners, removing waste that builds up in the brain including the toxic proteins that accumulate in Alzheimer’s disease. To visualise the microglia in the brains of people, researchers use expensive brain PET scans. The scans require the use of a chemical called TSPO that latches onto the microglia and generates a radioactive signal used to study it.

However, currently researchers don’t know whether this chemical latches onto protective or harmful types of microglia. This means they are unable to accurately interpret the PET scans that reveal microglia activity in the brain.

In this PhD project, Prof Delphine Boche and her PhD student will look at the chemical’s interaction with microglia in more detail.

Prof Delphine Boche from the University of Southampton, said:
“The immune system’s role in diseases like Alzheimer’s is the new frontier of dementia research and this funding is extremely welcome. Using brain tissue donated by people who died of Alzheimer’s disease, we will explore microglia from the early to the latest stage of disease. We will look at the shape of the microglia and the role of other immune cells that may interact with the chemical vital to see microglia in brain scans.

“This work will improve our understanding of the role the immune system plays and improve a doctor’s ability to decide whether microglia in the brain are harmful or protective based on brain scans alone.”

Another £100,000 project has been awarded to Prof Roxana Carare at the University. Prof Carare will look to understand why toxic proteins build-up in blood vessels during Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Dementia affects around 20,000 people in the region, and nearly one million people across the UK. Research carried out by dementia experts like this is the only answer to a world free of the fear, harm and heartbreak of the condition.

 “Alzheimer’s Research UK remains committed to funding the best science and Southampton has a strong dementia research community. Funding research like this would not be possible without donations from our fantastic supporters. Now more than ever, dementia research needs our backing, supporters can donate at https://alzres.uk/make-donation or by calling call 0300 111 5555”