Dementia research charity awards Cardiff scientists £387k to accelerate the search for a cure

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By Arjun Sanganee | Friday 29 September 2023

Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, has funded two researchers from Cardiff University to carry out projects aimed at finding new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Sarah Carpanini and Prof Philip Taylor have been awarded grants totalling £387k to reveal the role genes play in driving the development of Alzheimer’s disease, which could open new treatment avenues.

Over the past 25 years, Alzheimer’s Research UK has invested more than £4m into research at Cardiff University, one of the major scientific hubs for studies into dementia. The funding announced today is part of a £3m package of new nationwide research funding that will accelerate the charity’s search for a cure.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, and is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that affects memory, thinking skills and being able to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Sadly, one in two people will be directly affected by dementia by 2040, either developing the condition, caring for someone who has it, or both. We urgently need more research to bring about life-changing preventions and treatments if we are to change this.

Alzheimer’s Research UK has funded two projects at Cardiff University that could lead to new ways to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Dr Carpanini who has been awarded £271k of the fund said, “Thanks to our new grant, we can now investigate the mechanisms which cause the complement system to malfunction and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This will hopefully identify new drug targets that could lead to new treatments for the most common form of dementia.”

The complement system is the front line of defence for our immune system. It consists of a group of proteins that work together to identify pathogens and unwanted cells, so the immune system can remove them.

In the brain, complement tags the connections (synapses) between brain cells, marking them for removal by an immune cell called the microglia. This allows the brain to remove damaged or unhealthy cells. However, if the complement system becomes overactive, it can start tagging healthy synapses marking them for removal, causing damage to the brain that leads to diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“The more we understand about how Alzheimer’s develops the more doors open to being able to stop the disease in its track. I’m incredibly excited about seeing where my project will go.” added Dr Carpanini.

Dr Carpanini will be using innovative techniques to create new cell models in the lab to help them find what changes are happening to the genes that control complement. They hope to pinpoint the changes that are making it overactive, and find new ways to prevent this from happening.

 

In another project, Prof Philip Taylor and his team have been awarded £116k to look at the connection between variations in a gene called ATP8B4 and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The ATP8B4 gene is active in microglia – the brain’s immune cells that engulf and remove pathogens and unwanted cells – and changes to the gene can increase its activity. The gene is thought to be involved in maintaining the protective membrane around cells. However, researchers still don’t know how these changes lead to Alzheimer’s, which could lead to clues in how to tackle the disease.

“We’re at a really exciting stage in dementia research where there are newly identified gene variants that may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof Philip Taylor. Adding, “Finding out the mechanisms behind this could reveal new targets for future dementia treatments, which is an extremely exciting prospect. Although the first treatments for dementia are now emerging from clinical trials, we’ll need to develop more, that target a diverse range of biological processes, to really drive progress for people who develop dementia.”

 

Alzheimer’s Research UK Research Programmes Manager, Emma Stone, said, “Dementia is now the UK’s leading cause of death, with someone developing it every three minutes.

“Although we finally have new treatments for Alzheimer’s on the horizon, they only work for people in the earliest stages of disease and come with significant side effects. We need to keep searching for newer and better treatments that work beyond removing amyloid plaques from the brain.

“So, more than ever before, it is essential we keep investing into dementia research like these two projects in Cardiff. Gaining a better understanding of the factors at play in dementia will help us reach a cure faster. It’s what people affected by dementia need and deserve.”

To find out how to do your bit for a cure, visit and donate at www.alzheimersresearchuk.org.

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Arjun Sanganee