Vital £50,000 boost for dementia research at St Andrews University


By Alex Smith | Monday 30 September 2019

Today, Alzheimer’s Research UK has committed nearly £50,000 to fund a pioneering dementia research project at the University of St Andrews.

Dementia is a condition caused by physical diseases in the brain, most commonly Alzheimer’s disease. This is the message at the heart of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s award-winning awareness campaign, #ShareTheOrange. Leading Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson, stars in the campaign’s latest video, released this World Alzheimer’s Month (September).

Although researchers know many of the brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, they don’t fully understand the exact mechanisms behind the development and progression of the disease.

In this new Pilot Project, Dr Juan Varela will investigate how one of the hallmark Alzheimer’s proteins, amyloid, spreads through the brain. He will zero in on how small clusters of amyloid protein circulate in the gaps between brain cells.

Dr Varela has pioneered new microscope techniques that allow him to track how amyloid protein moves through the brain over time.

The research will paint a more detailed picture of how clumps of potentially harmful protein are cleared from the brain and how they can get stuck in the narrow channels between brain cells. The team hopes it will lead to a new understanding of disease and help identify new targets for potential drugs.

Dr Juan Varela at the University of St Andrews, said:

“When we’re asleep, the space between cells in the brain increases by up to 60%, and this allows amyloid protein to drain out of the brain. In Alzheimer’s disease these protein clumps don’t get cleared away properly. I aim to find out if this is due to the existence of biological ‘cul-de-sacs’ in the gaps between cells, where proteins could potentially get trapped and trigger toxic effects. This research will help us to understand early changes involved in Alzheimer’s and how these spread through the brain.

“Improving the clearance of amyloid from the brain is a key goal for researchers working on ways to tackle Alzheimer’s disease. This research could reveal new ways we might be able to boost this process with drugs.”

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK, including around 70,000 in Scotland alone. The condition is not an inevitable part of getting older but the result of diseases that damage the brain. Pioneering research like this underway at the University of St Andrews is helping to unpick the complex causes of dementia and drive progress towards new treatments for people living with the condition.”

“So many people up and down the country have been sharing our #ShareTheOrange campaign to raise awareness of the need for research so it’s fantastic to be able to be supporting research in St Andrews.

To help make breakthroughs possible and register your interest in joining a community fundraising group this World Alzheimer’s Month contact Stacy Rowan at


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Alex Smith