Scottish dementia researchers head back into lab in search for breakthroughs

06 July 2020

Today (Monday 6 July) some dementia researchers funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK have been given special access to head back into the lab at the University of Edinburgh while ensuring they comply with the strict government guidelines on social distancing.

While resourceful scientists funded by the UK’s leading dementia research charity were still managing to do some work in innovative ways wherever possible from home, this return marks a change in pace with scientists physically allowed back in the lab to resume their pioneering research.

Almost one million people in the UK are living with dementia, and over half of us know someone affected – in Scotland alone, 90,000, people live with the condition.

People with dementia experience memory loss, confusion, personality changes and gradually lose the ability to manage daily life. And sadly, it has become clear that people with dementia are more at risk of experiencing severe effects of COVID-19.

Dr Katie Askew from the University of Edinburgh is still predominantly working from home, but has now been given special dispensation to resume experimental work.

Research will not return to 100% capacity for some time, but this return will allow Dr Askew to set up new experiments and complete time-critical work after being unable to access the lab for three months.

With only limited treatment options available for people who develop dementia, Dr Askew’s work funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK aims to examine the relationship between reduced blood flow and inflammatory changes in the brain. It will also look for the effect these changes have on memory and thinking in Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

As there is considerable overlap in the symptoms caused by the two different forms of dementia, tests that can distinguish between these different underlying diseases could be very valuable. Not only would this allow people with memory problems to receive a more accurate diagnosis, it would also help make sure the right people are being given potential future treatments at the right time.

Speaking about the return to the lab, Dr Katie Askew from the University of Edinburgh, said:

Scottish dementia researchers head back into lab in search for breakthroughs, Alzheimer's Research UK“Just as research is vital in the fight against COVID-19, we know that research will help us to overcome dementia. We are looking forward to resuming experiments that were postponed due to lockdown. I am able to return to the lab, albeit in a much-reduced capacity, to set up complete experiments and set up new long-term studies due to special dispensation from the University as my research project has significant time constraints.

“Dementia research has been hit hard and while we won’t be at full strength for a while, our lab is looking to start new experiments to complete our projects when it is safe for us to do so. We will ensure we are working safely to help avoid vital work like this stalling again as COVID-19 is still out there and remains a significant threat to our communities as well as our research.”

Any wider return to labs across Scotland will be based on Scottish Government guidance and approval from the host university.

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

Scottish dementia researchers head back into lab in search for breakthroughs, Alzheimer's Research UK“Dementia affects 90,000 people in Scotland, and nearly one million people across the UK. Research carried out by dementia experts like Dr Askew is the only way we will create a world free of the fear, harm and heartbreak of the condition.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK estimates it could be facing a potential drop in income due to COVID-19 of up to 45%, and dementia research has been hit hard by the pandemic. While all researchers will still have challenges to face, this physical return to work gives them and everyone affected by dementia hope that we will see progress in dementia research continue.

“Our funding for research like this would not be possible without donations from our fantastic supporters. Now more than ever, dementia research needs our backing. Anyone can donate to help dementia research regain momentum at alzres.uk/make-donation or by calling call 0300 111 5555.”