Landmark UK DRI set to unlock new mechanisms behind dementia

20 April 2017

Work at the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) will get underway with 27 foundation programmes aiming to better understand the wide range of mechanisms that underpin neurodegenerative diseases. Details of the initial research programmes come as six universities have been awarded centre status in the institute, laying the foundations for an eventual 400-strong community of UK DRI researchers.

Established in response to the Government’s 2020 Challenge on Dementia, the UK DRI is a joint £250 million investment into dementia research led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) alongside founding charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The scientific strengths and expertise across the UK DRI centres are reflected in the wide-ranging and ambitious foundation programmes that will constitute the initial work of the institute. The role of sleep, gut bacteria and the complex involvement of the immune system in dementia are among the priority areas to be investigated within the centres during the foundation phase.

University College London (UCL) was announced as the location for the UK DRI headquarters in December 2016 with Professor Bart De Strooper appointed as UK DRI Director. UCL will now be joined by centres at the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, The University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and King’s College London.

The research programmes at the UK DRI will investigate new molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for neurodegenerative brain diseases, reinvigorating the pipeline of dementia drugs in development.  This strong biomedical focus will be complimented by a stream of care research that will be integrated into the institute’s research strategy next year.

An initial tranche of funding worth £55 million will be supplemented by a further £20million of investment from the institutions hosting the centres. This funding will get the institute up and running and kick-start research that will provide answers to some of the most pressing questions in the field of neurodegenerative disease. Twenty professors and seven fellows have been selected to lead the foundation programmes and recruitment for other positions in the institute will start later this year.

Professor Bart De Strooper said:

“The shared vision between the centres to truly understand dementias and how they progress will be at the heart of the DRI’s success. We selected the centres based on scientific excellence, evidence of strong leadership, the alignment of goals with the DRI as a whole, and the ability to grow and collaborate as the institute gathers pace.

Dr Rob Buckle, Chief Science Officer at the MRC, said:

“The UK DRI is bringing together the most promising dementia science in the UK and the announcement of the centres and their foundation programmes is a huge step in its ambition to become an internationally-recognised national institute. The six centres that will form the core of the institute were recognised for their outstanding knowledge and capabilities across the dementias, but most importantly their commitment to work with colleagues old and new, and far and wide, to gain fresh new insights into the disease.”

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

“Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer and is impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The institute provides a dynamic, collaborative and fresh approach which will transform dementia research and deliver life changing discoveries for people affected by dementia. It’s incredibly exciting to see its first pioneering research programmes take shape across the six centres.”

Dr Matthew Norton, Director of Policy and Strategy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“The UK DRI is a unique and pioneering initiative with the level of ambition needed to take on our greatest medical challenge. The broad research programme at the UK DRI will have a transformative effect on dementia research right across the country, attracting in new talent, expertise and ideas to drive progress towards new ways to help people living with the condition.”

Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

“Dementia affects millions of people around the world, but through greater understanding we can make significant steps forward to improve lives.

“Today’s announcement of the institute’s centre locations demonstrates the UK’s existing wealth of knowledge and research expertise, and the leadership role we can take in developing new treatments to tackle this disease. This is exactly the type of project our Industrial Strategy will build on to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global science.”

For more information about the foundation programmes at the UK DRI visit