A groundbreaking initiative, the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) brings together world leaders in dementia research to transform the research landscape. It’s a £250 million investment from the MRC, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. But what is happening right now in the 6 universities that make up the UK DRI?
Tim Shakespeare, Research Information Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, takes a sneak peek at the progress being made in our centres.
What’s been happening in the UK DRI?
I’m into all things dementia research, so you can imagine my excitement over the last few weeks as stories of new laboratories and researchers have come in from across the UK. These sneak peeks show how the UK DRI is already starting to transform the landscape of dementia research.
Establishing labs in Edinburgh
Scientists in Edinburgh have taken to Twitter to share some exciting updates. They’ve been packing up their old offices and moving into the new labs dedicated to dementia research.
— Sarah McGlasson (@DrMcglasson) January 12, 2018
The UK DRI at the University of Edinburgh is focusing on the interaction between brain cells, the immune system and the brain’s blood supply.
It’s not only researchers that are directly funded that are benefiting from the UK DRI. These facilities are giving a boost to the wider research environment too.
Whilst Dr Sarah McGlasson’s project is funded by the Wellcome Trust, her work will benefit from the new resources and collaboration with UK DRI researchers. She said:
Our lab is working to understand how immune activation affects the brain in health and disease. I am especially interested in the effect on the blood vessels in the brain.’
This fits well with the focus of the UK DRI at Edinburgh – the researchers want to understand what goes wrong in these systems and hope this understanding will inform new treatments.
Checking on progress in Cambridge
Clare Walton and Doug Brown, from our Research and Development team here at Alzheimer’s Society, recently visited the UK DRI at the University of Cambridge. They came back brimming with enthusiasm.
One of the key ambitions of the UK DRI is to attract the best scientists from different areas to focus their efforts on dementia – that’s exactly what’s happening at Cambridge.
Dr Edward Avezov is working on a key discovery which could fundamentally change long-held ideas about how particles are transported along nerve cells. Because of the UK DRI, he’s bringing that expertise to dementia research! He thinks the processes he’s studying could provide vital clues to understand the problems in nerve cells that we see in dementia.
There’s still a bit of work to do at Cambridge to prepare the new lab space, which spans two floors of a building in the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. But it won’t be long until researchers can start taking advantage of these new facilities.
Construction in Cardiff
The moment that brought the UK DRI to life for me was a visit to the centre at Cardiff University.
This centre is being led by Professor Julie Williams, a world leader in the genetics of dementia. Her team have discovered over 27 genes that are connected with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Importantly, these genes reveal insights into what causes the disease and have highlighted the role that our immune system might play – a hot topic in dementia research.
During our visit, we heard from 11 researchers who are starting work at the UK DRI. Tackling the same problem from different angles, they’re all working together to speed up their progress.
Two researchers made the impact of the UK DRI particularly clear. Owen Peters and Gaynor Smith both worked in Cardiff before moving to the United States to pursue their research. Excited to be back in Wales, they were drawn in by the UK DRI’s ambition to make a real difference and provide the state-of-the-art facilities they need to make progress more quickly.
What’s in store for the next year?
Now the UK DRI is taking shape, it’s fantastic to see that we’re attracting the best researchers from around the world and developing exceptional research resources. And I’ve only described a fraction of the work that’s happening! There’s also lots going on in the centres at University College London, King’s College London and Imperial College London.
In total there are 28 research programmes starting already. We’re expecting this to grow to 50 programmes and 400 researchers when the UK DRI is at full strength.
In the Research Communications team, we’ll be doing our best to keep you up to date with all the most exciting developments. Subscribe to Care and cure magazine and our monthly email newsletter to get regular updates on dementia research.
You can also subscribe to our blog to recieve notifications to your email.