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U.K. Public-Private Partnership to Attack Dementia

Brain silhouettes (Research.gov)

(Research.gov)

20 June 2014. Medical Research Council, a science funding agency in the U.K., organized a consortium of academic and industry researchers to better detect, prevent, and treat dementia. The council and six industry partners plan to spend £16 million ($US 27.25 million) on the U.K. Dementias Research Platform that includes studies involving some 2 million participants.

Dementia is a collection of neurodegenerative diseases marked by sharp declines in cognitive functions such as memory and communication over time. The conditions that include Alzheimer’s disease are progressive and debilitating, and currently have no cures. Medical Research Council says some 600,000 people in the U.K. now suffer from dementia at a total cost of £17 billion a year.

A key feature of the Dementias Research Platform is its plan to tap into 22 ongoing study groups in the U.K. to recruit 2 million volunteers age 50 and over, including people considered at risk for developing dementia and those in the early stages of the disease, as well as people from the general population. Examples are the U.K. Biobank and Million Women Study. With this large group, the researchers aim to better understand the role of dementia in the overall health of individuals, not just activity in the brain.

From this cohort, the project’s research teams aim to link biological and lifestyle data to genetic studies, cognitive testing, and brain imaging, leading to better biological and cognitive indicators of dementia. The researchers intend to generate better predictors of people at risk for dementia, identify triggers for developing the disease, and pinpoint factors that speed up or hold back its progression.

Findings from studies sponsored by the Dementias Research Platform are expected to reveal new approaches for dementia intervention, including new drugs. Results should also make it possible to better recruit participants in clinical trials for testing new therapies.

Six pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in the U.K., Europe, and U.S. are taking part in the Dementias Research Platform: Araclon, the MedImmune biologics division of AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Ixico, Janssen Research & Development (a division of Johnson & Johnson), and SomaLogic. The companies are contribution £4 million of the £16 million for the project, in cash and in-kind contributions.

Cardiff University in Wales is the lead academic institution on the project. Other universities taking part are University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University of Oxford, Swansea University, and University College London.

John Gallacher from Cardiff University and director of the Dementias Research Platform tells more about the project in the following video.

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