Leading UK charity gives leg up for Oxford dementia research

21 September 2018

Scientists at the University of Oxford have received a £40,000 funding boost from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. This World Alzheimer’s Day, Alzheimer’s Research UK are launching a new campaign and pledging to support a further £250m of research by 2025 to make breakthroughs possible.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and affects 500,000 people in the UK alone. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s is down to a complex mix of age, lifestyle and genetics.

People who carry one form of the gene, ApoE, are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. However, while having a risk gene may increase the likelihood of getting dementia, it doesn’t mean a person will definitely develop it.

Researchers led by Prof Colin Akerman at the University of Oxford will use state-of-the-art stem cell techniques to grow and study brain cells from people with Alzheimer’s disease, to further untangle the effects of ApoE on the disease.

The team will study how a type of brain cell called an astrocyte can affect the junctions between nerve cells, through which they communicate. Astrocytes are a type of brain cell that normally provide supportive functions for nerve cells.

Prof Colin Akerman, who is leading the study at the University of Oxford, said:

“The complex interaction between genes, astrocytes and nerve cells is still not understood. This process uses a Nobel-prize winning stem cell technique that is transforming our ability to study human nerve cells in detail in the laboratory.

“We know that people with the ApoE4 gene can be at higher risk of Alzheimer’s, but it doesn’t mean they will definitely develop the disease. This research will help us understand why people with particular forms of the ApoE gene are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“Dementia is a devastating condition touching the lives of one in three people in the UK. Prof Akerman and his team are expertly placed at the University of Oxford to look under the microscope to investigate the interactions between different brain cells using these incredible techniques.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK receives no government funding for the groundbreaking research we support, and it is only thanks to the generosity of our supporters that we are able to fund work like this.

“Anyone who would like to support dementia research by volunteering to take part in research studies can find out more by calling Alzheimer’s Research UK on 0300 111 5 111 or by visiting www.joindementiaresearch.nihr.ac.uk