6 ways leaving a gift in your will is helping drive progress in dementia research


By Ed Pinches | Friday 01 October 2021

Dementia can be a devastating illness. It robs us of time with our families, taking away our loved ones’ memories and their personality. But it’s caused by diseases, most commonly Alzheimer’s – and diseases can be cured.

One extraordinary way you can help make that a possibility is with a gift in your Will. Gifts in Wills protect our children, grandchildren and future generations from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia – here’s how these vital gifts have driven progress in research.

1. Gifts in Wills make 1 in 3 of our research projects possible

Dementia research has historically been under-funded. At Alzheimer’s Research UK we’re working hard to change this. Thanks to our dedicated supporters, we have invested £154m in research since we funded our first research project in 1998. These studies have resulted in thousands of new discoveries that have moved us ever closer to life-changing treatments. Gifts in Wills make a huge contribution to this remarkable progress.

These gifts protect future generations from the heartbreak of dementia, as they make one in three of our ground-breaking research projects possible. One kind supporter left a gift in his Will to further our understanding of the causes of the diseases that result in dementia at Imperial College London. Investigating key proteins like amyloid and tau is crucial to get a better handle on how the diseases that cause dementia develop, and how they might be stopped.

2. Gifts in Wills keep us hunting for new treatments

The first wave of dementia treatments came along in the 90s. They have now been prescribed to millions of people, helping improve symptoms for some, but unfortunately they do not attack the root cause of the disease.

In June, a new drug for Alzheimer’s called aducanumab was licensed in the US, and UK regulators are now considering whether to licence the drug for use here. While it’s the first drug to tackle the underlying disease processes in Alzheimer’s, which is encouraging, it’s only a starting point. We need to see many more treatments being explored that could help people with different forms of dementia, and at different stages. Donations left by gifts in our Wills are now helping fund our Drug Discovery Alliance, with over 20 potential new treatments being researched right now.

Speaking about progress into new treatments, Prof Paul Whiting, Chief Scientific Officer of the UCL Drug Discovery Institute (DDI) said:

Prof Paul Whiting“We continue to do our best to move forward on the DDI’s key aim of accelerating new treatments for dementia towards the people who need them. I’m very proud of the progress we have made so far and I believe there’s real hope for the future in this area.”

3. Leaving a legacy today can support the pioneering dementia researchers of tomorrow

Early career scientists are the next generation of researchers who could help unlock important answers about dementia, getting us closer to new life-changing treatments.

One generous supporter from Cheshire left a gift in her Will that has been supporting one such early career researcher, Dr Conceição Bettencourt.

Dr Bettencourt is studying chemical tags on the building blocks of life, our DNA, which can alter which genes are switched on or off.  Her research will identify patterns of chemical tags in specific types of dementia, helping us to better detect disease.  Being able to identify these diseases sooner could help save families from what is often a heart-breaking struggle to get an early and accurate diagnosis.

Researchers like Dr Bettencourt are at the start of their career. They’re in the process of transitioning to become independent researchers running their own group and they play a critical role in driving dementia research forward. Already, Alzheimer’s Research UK’s funding for early career researchers has led to over 650 discoveries, and collaborations across 24 countries.

4. You can help increase the number of dementia researchers

In 2019 we supported a project by Dr Petroula Proitsi at King’s College London that was made possible thanks to a gift left in a supporter’s Will. Dr Proitsi is looking for a ‘biological fingerprint’ that can detect Alzheimer’s. Discovering this fingerprint is the crucial first step in developing a blood test that can spot the signs of the disease. A blood test that could identify people at early stages of memory problems and indicate whether they will go on to develop Alzheimer’s would be a simple, cost-effective detection technique, and a vital addition to a doctor’s diagnostic toolbox.

Talking about her research Dr Proitsi said:

“The ideas behind this research could easily have stayed on a piece of paper or computer screen. Instead, supporters backed my work, helping me to develop my ideas. Today, there are hundreds of young researchers with brilliant ideas who need the same opportunity. So please support them if you can. Because the potential in their work is enormous.”

Dr Petra Proitsi now supervising four more junior researchers to help her with this work. Since 2009 there are 91% more researchers working on dementia. But there’s a way to go. There is still only one dementia researcher to every four researchers working on cancer. Leaving a gift in your Will could change this.

5. It can power research in your local area

A Sheffield resident’s donation went towards research in their local area. Research by Dr Simon Bell of the University of Sheffield is looking at how the ‘batteries’ of specialised brain cells work in people who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. He asks people with Alzheimer’s and people without the disease to donate a small sample of skin. He then takes this skin sample and transforms it into brain cells.

Speaking about this work, Dr Sara Imarisio, Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Head of Research said:

Dr Sara ImarisioThanks to the generosity of our supporters like this in Sheffield and across South Yorkshire, we are able to continue to fund research in the region and drive progress towards new treatments for people living with the disease.”

This work has found that cells in the brain don’t work as well as they should in people that have Alzheimer’s disease. This is important as it may contribute to why people with Alzheimer’s disease get memory problems.

6. It will help scientists to build on the vital progress they have made so far

Thanks to you, our researchers have made over 2,200 discoveries so far. They’ve worked with scientists across 60 countries and with continued support we can turn these discoveries into breakthroughs that will change lives.

For more information about how you can support dementia research long into the future by leaving a gift in your Will call 01223 896 606 or visit: alzheimersresearchuk.org/free-wills-guide


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About the author

Ed Pinches