It’s no secret that dementia research is underfunded. Only £74 million a year is invested in dementia research in the UK, which is a tiny fraction of the £26 billion that dementia costs our economy. This underfunding has led to limitations and bottlenecks in dementia research, impeding progress into understanding the causes of dementia, developing effective treatments and providing better care for the people affected.
However, as conversations around dementia and dementia research gain a higher profile and funders like Alzheimer’s Society support more research, the tide is beginning to turn on some of these issues.
Examining the dementia research landscape
In September 2015, we commissioned RAND Europe to investigate the UK’s dementia research landscape. The report provided mixed results. On the positive side, the UK was found to be a prominent voice in terms of number of scientific publications. We are also very strong in certain research areas, including genetics and research into dementia with Lewy bodies.
However, there were also several problems that were found, including a particular lack of dementia researchers in fields such as clinical research and social care. There are also difficulties in getting enough people to take part in clinical trials. The report also found that 70 per cent of researchers had left the field within four years of gaining their PhD. This is a worrying statistic when the workforce is already well under the capacity needed to tackle such a complex condition. This contrast is particularly highlighted by the fact that cancer researchers outnumber those in dementia by five to one.
- See our infographic of the report’s main findings
- Read our paper on the dementia research landscape in BMJ open
We are dedicated to solving some of the challenges facing the dementia research community. Some of the ways we are doing this include:
Increasing funding and encouraging participation in clinical trials
We have pledged £150 million for our Research programme over the next decade, including £50 million pledged towards the new Dementia Research Institute. This money will go towards a variety of projects that will give us vital information to identify causes of dementia, provide better care for those affected, investigate potential treatments and discover if there are ways to prevent the condition.
To help boost the number of people taking part in clinical trials, we support the Join Dementia Research service, matching people to suitable studies in their area. This service, launched last year, now has over 15,000 people signed up.
Supporting our researchers
One of the main obstacles that researchers face in their careers is securing a permanent academic position. These highly desirable positions allow the researcher to work independently on their own projects, run a laboratory and become lecturers and professors. Demand for these permanent positions is often far higher than the number of places available.
Through our innovative Dementia Research Leaders programme, Alzheimer’s Society offers a range of training and support for our researchers to help them to build the essential skills needed to climb the career ladder. For example, this year we launched our mentorship scheme, pairing researchers on the cusp of gaining career independence with senior researchers who have already achieved this goal.
Making sure that dementia research is given the prominence it deserves
Recently, we have seen many discussions about dementia research in the news and on social media, whether it was results from clinical trials or new insights into how to reduce risk of the condition. This has boosted the conversations amongst the public, policymakers and the research community about what dementia research can achieve. We need to build on this and highlight that progress is being made.
We are making daily steps towards finding out more about the causes of the condition, thinking of new approaches to treatment and gaining knowledge in how best to care for people living with the condition today. Our research programme will ensure that this continues to be the case, enabling the best and brightest people to answer the biggest questions in dementia research.