Research Projects

Looking at the blood brain barrier to help identify new treatments for dementia

Awarded to:
Dr Katrina Madden

Current award:

Newcastle University

1 June 2022 - 31 May 2025

Full project name:

Interrupting complement interactions to reduce inflammation in neurodegenerative disease






Researchers in Newcastle are developing a new technique to screen for new drug targets to treat Alzheimer’s disease

What does the project aim to do?

The diseases that cause dementia urgently need new treatments to stop them before they begin. With nearly a million people living with dementia in the UK, and around 600,000 having a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, it is crucial to understand the mechanisms of these diseases to develop new treatments.

An emerging explanation for the damage caused by Alzheimer’s is inflammation in the brain caused by an overactive immune response. One of the control mechanisms our brains have to manage inflammation is a system called complement – made of proteins that are found in our blood.

These proteins can cross the blood-brain-barrier, a protective mechanism that ensures only certain molecules can enter the brain environment. Although this stops harmful molecules from entering the brain, it can also make creating new molecules to be used as drug targets a tricky process. Many often fail at the first hurdle of crossing the blood-brain-barrier.

This pilot project aims to generate data to support a new drug discovery programme focusing on using cutting-edge microscopy to image complement proteins and see if they could be effective targets to reduce inflammation.


What will they do?

Using specialised microscopy techniques, Dr Katrina Madden will be looking at how complement proteins interact and cross the blood brain barrier in real time. If successful, this will allow drugs acting in a similar way to be tested and screened. Dr Madden can then generate results showing with potential new drug targets could be the most promising and effective to further develop.

The type of drugs the team will focus on are designed to inhibit inflammation in the brain, and this is why understanding these complement proteins is so important. Results from this study could support a new drug discovery programme focusing on this mechanism to treat the diseases that cause dementia.

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Dementia is one of the world’s greatest challenges. It steals lives and leaves millions heartbroken. But we can change the future.