Leading the search for a cure

Male scientist working in lab.

By Fiona Ducotterd | Monday 11 September 2023

“Big things are happening,” says Prof Fiona Ducotterd from her office at University College London (UCL). “And like every scientist involved in dementia research, I’m very excited to be a part of them.”

After specialising in neuroscience for two decades, Prof Ducotterd now works as the Chief Scientific Officer at our Drug Discovery Institute (DDI), which is based in UCL’s world famous neurology department on Queen’s Square in London.

It’s part of our Drug Discovery Alliance (DDA), which ensures that discoveries in the lab are translated into potential treatments as quickly as possible.

“It’s an amazing place,” says Prof Ducotterd. “We have some of the world’s most cutting-edge facilities. We even have a ‘brain bank’ — a unique archive of brains and tissue donated by people with neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. You’d be hard pushed to find a better place to study and understand dementia.”

Prof Ducotterd took up her new role in 2022 after senior research roles in America, China and Japan where she was “part of everything from preparing cells for study to forging partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry.” All essential experience for her work at the DDI.



This international career also meant a lot of different job titles, but when asked to describe herself, Prof Ducotterd opts for ‘Neuroscientist, Drug Discovery Professional and Mum’. “Some people think you need to sacrifice your career for your family or vice versa. But I’m very proud to be a mum to my fantastic daughter, and working involved in this incredible, life-changing research.”

“It’s because of my family that I’m here in the first place. My grandmother Mary lived with dementia. I know how much it hurts to see someone you really love disappear, as she did. I’m determined to prevent my daughter’s generation from experiencing that heartbreak.”

“It’s obviously a challenge. Our brains are the most complex organ in the universe and it has taken an immense amount of work to get where we are today. It’s also going to take much more work to get where we need to be. I always say that good quality research is built on failures, not successes. You develop a theory, you apply it and when it doesn’t work, you learn from it and go again. And with the brain you have to do that a lot.

Yet Prof Ducotterd says every supporter of dementia research has very good reason to feel optimistic about the future.

“What we are doing is working. Around 30 years ago we didn’t know what caused the different types of dementia. Now we’re seeing a pipeline of promising Alzheimer’s drugs that go beyond treating the symptoms of disease and can actually slow cognitive decline. In the US they’re being approved by regulators. We even have brand names for some of them. That’s genuinely amazing. And it proves that we’ll find ways to treat and even cure this condition, as long as we can keep moving forward.”

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About the author

Fiona Ducotterd

Fiona Ducotterd is the Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer's Research UK's Drug Discovery Institute in London.