Newcastle dementia researchers get £260K boost from leading charity

20 May 2019

Researchers at Newcastle University have received a £270,000 funding boost from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. The announcement comes during Dementia Action Week, a national initiative aimed at raising awareness of dementia and encouraging people to join efforts to help tackle the condition.

There are 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. This includes 100,000 people with a condition called dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). DLB involves complex symptoms which can include memory and thinking problems similar to those caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and movement problems like those in Parkinson’s disease.

While DLB isn’t as well-known as diseases like Alzheimer’s, it has an enormous impact on people’s lives. The condition came to the attention of the wider public in 2016 when it was revealed that the actor and comedian, Robin Williams had been living with DLB.

Newcastle University is at the centre of research into the DLB, with many leading experts working to better understand, diagnose and treat the condition.

Dr Daniel Erskine has recently been awarded £190,000 by Alzheimer’s Research UK for research to better understand key changes to the brain in the disease.

DLB involves a build-up of a protein that forms into clumps called Lewy bodies inside nerve cells in the brain. While this process is at the centre of our understanding of DLB, Dr Erskine has identified a different brain change that could have an important effect on how the disease develops and causes symptoms.

He will examine brain tissue donated by people who died with DLB, focussing on specialised cells called interneurons. Interneurons coordinate the activity of groups of brain cells that are necessary for functions like learning and memory. Dr Erskine has discovered key changes to interneurons in DLB, and with this new funding he will explore how these changes come about and how they contribute to symptoms.

Speaking about his project, Dr Daniel Erskine, said:

“Understanding how dementia with Lewy bodies develops is vital as we try to come up with new ways to help people living with the disease.

“We haven’t yet been able to develop a treatment that can slow the development of DLB in the brain. This suggests that we still do not know enough about how the disease causes damage to the brain and produces such complex symptoms. There are several drugs that can target interneurons, and this study will help to determine if these could help tackle DLB.

“I’m grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for this new funding. The research we are doing in Newcastle is helping to make breakthroughs possible for people with dementia with Lewy bodies.”

Newcastle is also home to the coordinating centre for the Brains for Dementia Research programme (BDR) – an initiative co-funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, which has been running for over ten years.

There have been over 720 brain donations to fill this brain bank. Now Alzheimer’s Research UK is also committing over £70,000 for a PhD Studentship at Newcastle University to understand how different diseases occur together in the brain to cause dementia.

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

“Over 34,000 people living in the North East have dementia and this number is set to rise in the coming years. We must continue to invest in life-changing research to understand the diseases that cause dementia so we can stop them in their tracks.

“We can only fund pioneering research like this in Newcastle thanks to our dedicated supporters, who are often personally affected by dementia. They carry out amazing feats of fundraising both locally and nationally, which helps us fund vital research in the region.

“There are many different ways people can take action to help people who are living with dementia. Progress is only possible thanks to volunteers who take part in research studies. Anyone who would like to find out more about how they can support efforts to overcome dementia can visit www.alzheimersresearchuk.org