Manchester student Richard takes to the stage at UK’s largest dementia research conference

21 March 2018

Day 2: Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2018, London

Over 600 of the country’s leading dementia researchers will hear from University of Salford PhD student Richard Heale today, as he shares his findings at the UK’s largest gathering of dementia researchers. He will present his research into a rare form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD) at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2018 taking place in London this week.

Born in the North East, Richard studied first at the University of Durham and then University of Newcastle before moving to Manchester. Richard is now studying for his PhD, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, at the University of Salford.

His work focuses on FTD, a relatively rare form of dementia, but the most common cause of the condition in people under 50. FTD can cause major changes in a person’s behaviour, personality, and ability to communicate.

He will present findings from his work with human brain tissue to leading dementia experts gathered at the conference. His research focuses on understanding a process called autophagy, a cellular waste disposal system that scientists have identified as a promising target for future dementia drugs. In diseases like FTD harmful proteins start to build up in the brain and boosting the brain’s waste disposal system could help to clear toxic proteins and protect brain cells from damage.

Richard said:

“In frontotemporal dementia the brain physically shrinks as nerve cells become damaged, and it is important to understand the role the cell’s waste disposal system plays in this. The ultimate aim of any dementia research project is to contribute to understanding that will improve the lives of people living with the condition. By working to understand the molecular details of processes underlying FTD we may begin to learn how to fight this disease in a new way. It’s fantastic to be discussing my work at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference and to share the stage with world-leading researchers in the field.”

The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe, understanding how it works and how it goes wrong in dementia is an important challenge for researchers. Across the world, scientists are taking different approaches to help people with dementia and the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2018 will bring together experts from a range of research disciplines.

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“There are around 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, with nearly 30,000 in Greater Manchester alone. While frontotemporal dementia is a rarer form of the condition, it is still incredibly important to understand it, particularly as it has such a huge impact on the lives of those affected by it and their loved ones. We’re pleased to have been able to fund Richard’s pioneering research project, but we are only able to do this thanks to the tireless work of the members of the public who support Alzheimer’s Research UK.

“We are committed to not only funding the best ideas but investing in the best people. By training the next generation of researchers like Richard, we are boosting the number of scientists tackling the condition and working to improve the lives of people with dementia.”