Is there a joined-up approach to solve the global issue of dementia?
by Dr Laura Phipps, Science Communications Manager, Alzheimer’s Research UK.
You often ask us whether dementia researchers across the world talk to each other. Do researchers in the US talk to scientists in the UK? Do they share findings and resources? How do we know we’re not spending money on research in the UK that is already being done somewhere else in the world?
These are important questions and while repeating and validating findings is an essential part of the scientific process, research needs to be streamlined and efficient. Why work separately when we can collaborate to make progress faster?
The world’s largest dementia conference
Yesterday, the world’s largest dementia conference kicked off in Washington D.C. and we’re proud to be representing the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK on this international stage. The conference is bringing a staggering 4,000 dementia scientists together from more than 60 countries. The aim is to provide a platform for researchers to share ideas, findings and forge new partnerships.
It’s hugely encouraging to see the influential role that UK-based dementia research is playing in this global arena. In his opening address, Harry Johns, President of the US Alzheimer’s Association which runs the conference, praised the UK government and other funders for spearheading increases in research funding for dementia. He also spoke of the G8 Dementia Summit on dementia, hosted in London in 2013, and its success in putting dementia firmly on political agendas across the world.
At Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), we have a global attitude to research. Our Dementia Consortium and Global Clinical Trials Fund are open to applicants from across the world and we’re proud to be supporting initiatives in partnership with funders from Canada and the US. We also co-chair the International Alzheimer’s disease Research Funder Consortium, which brings together 20 research funders from many different countries. At the start of the conference on Saturday we sat around a table with these funders to make sure we’re all moving in the same direction and focusing on issues important to the global research community we all support.
It’s only the first day of this five-day conference, but we’ve already heard talks on a diverse range of topics. From research suggesting that someone’s ethnic background could influence their dementia risk and changes in the brain underpinning cognitive decline, to clinical studies characterising inflammation in the brain as a promising method to detect early stage Alzheimer’s. We also attended a debate where researchers discussed the balance of research between early diagnosis, cure, prevention and care. Following lots of discussion, the audience voted that research into early diagnosis and cure should remain a high priority for the research community.
Our scientists on the global stage
We’re particularly proud that ARUK-funded scientists also took to the stage today, showing that your donations are putting our scientists on the global stage.
Dr Roxana Carare revealed her work studying the brain’s protective layer – the blood brain barrier – which plays a key role in clearing waste products, including amyloid, from the brain. She’s researching how changes in these waste disposal mechanisms can contribute to Alzheimer’s. We heard Dr Delphine Boche from the ARUK Southampton Research Network discussing her work from a UK-based study of ageing where she showed that a particular class of immune cell called microglia change their behaviour in the brain in people with dementia. Unravelling whether these cells are active drivers of the diseases that cause dementia or innocent bystanders is next on her to-do list.
We also heard from Catherine Slattery, whose PhD work on early-onset Alzheimer’s is supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK, through money fundraised by staff at Iceland Foods. Catherine’s pioneering work to use state-of-the-art brain imaging to study detailed changes in brain tissue networks also won her a prize for the best poster presentation of her research at a dedicated imaging day at the conference.
So the answer to the question is largely yes. It’s not always possible to know all the research going on across the world, but researchers do talk, they do work together and share results and this is a culture we need to encourage and promote. It’s also encouraging that with your help, UK research has a strong presence in this week’s discussions. This international conference is a fantastic opportunity to share knowledge and inspire new ideas that will be so important for our continued progress in tackling dementia through research.
Over the next few days we’ll be bringing you updates on the latest breaking research coming out of the conference.