Early career dementia researchers in Oxford get £120K boost from charity


By Ed Pinches | Tuesday 18 May 2021

Early career dementia researcher, Dr Laura Winchester at the University of Oxford has received a £120,000 funding boost from Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The announcement of new funding from the UK’s leading dementia research charity comes during Dementia Action Week (17 – 23 May) as part of a wave of new funding to support researchers hit hardest by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dementia Action Week is dedicated to raising awareness of dementia, encouraging people to join efforts to create a future free from the fear, harm, and heartbreak of condition.

As scientists continue to make huge strides forward, life-changing treatments for the diseases that cause dementia are in sight, but dementia research is not immune to the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A survey by Alzheimer’s Research UK found that one in three researchers are considering leaving the field all together.

In light of financial uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, Alzheimer’s Research UK was forced to pause funding for new research projects in 2020. Thanks to the backing of dedicated supporters, the charity has been able to fund six new projects worth nearly £1 million including research in Oxford.

Dr Laura Winchester from the University of Oxford is investigating the links between iron and dementia. Currently, there is conflicting evidence as to whether changes in blood iron levels increase a person’s risk of developing dementia but researchers have discovered a relationship between increased iron in the brain and a worsening of symptoms.

During her three-year Fellowship, Dr Laura Winchester will use large datasets to further our understanding of how iron levels track with other brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s and other diseases that cause dementia.

Levels of iron can be measured in multiple ways including in blood tests, through our genes or even in brain scans. With the support of Dementias Platform UK, Dr Winchester will use sophisticated data analysis techniques to explore how these different measurements and changing iron levels may increase a person’s risk of dementia.

The research will also explore how changing iron levels could be used as a potential marker for Alzheimer’s disease and help doctors to make an accurate diagnosis.

Speaking about the funding for her project, Dr Laura Winchester, from the University of Oxford said:

“Getting the backing of funders like Alzheimer’s Research UK is a huge boost to early career researchers like me. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on people with dementia, but it is also making it difficult for early-career researchers who want to change the narrative when it comes to tackling the condition.

“My work of will provide insights into the role of iron in the development of dementia. The research may also identify new ways to detect diseases and serve as a foundation for future studies to determine if lowering iron levels in the brain could prevent or treat the condition.”

Dr Susan Kohlhaas from Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“Over 8,500 people living in the Oxford have dementia and we must continue to invest in life-changing research into the condition. We can only fund pioneering research like this to the backing of thousands of supporters, fundraisers, and partners.

“Dementia Action Week is about doing something, which could make a real difference. We saw with COVID-19 that volunteers make a huge difference in accelerating research and this will continue to be critical in our effort to tackle dementia.

“Our Dementia Research Infoline is open to those wanting to find out more about dementia, register their interest in taking part in dementia studies or any other questions about dementia research they may have. Our team have already handled over 25,000 enquiries and are here to help you. Ring us today on 0300 111 5111 or email us at infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org.”


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Ed Pinches