We know that dementia itself is not a disease but a syndrome- this is a collection of symptoms including a decline in memory, reasoning and communication skills, and the ability to do day to day tasks. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, there are a number of others including vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. Here at ARUK, we are funding research into all of these causes of dementia.
Nerve cells damaged – cannot communicate and send messages across the brain. Brain cells start to die and see parts of the brain stark to shrink. This will manifest as symptoms related to the areas of the brain particularly damaged – for example part of brain involved in memory people start forget how to do daily tasks, or who their relatives are. For FTD, area brain damaged involved in personality – changes in how people act and behave.
RESEARCH is helping us understand what causes this damage in nerve cells. We probably know the most about AD – two hallmark proteins build up in the brain and become toxic. There is a lot of research going on to understand these proteins, how they work, how they go wrong and what triggers them to start to clump together. Proteins also clump together in other forms of dementia such as DLB and FTD. Understanding these causes is vital because is points towards targets for new treatments. Our knowledge of amyloid is meaning that drugs are in testing that aim to target amyloid, and some are coming through that aim to stop tau from building up. But this is not the only story..................
Research is showing us that lots of us changes happen in the brain during these diseases. Damage to blood vessels causes vascular dementia but also known to happen in Alzheimer’s disease Immune system involved early on in these diseases but we dont know how its contributing Changes in metabolism There are lots of other cells in the brain not just nerve cells – brain support cells. Also change during diseases like Alzheimer’s. We are funding research looking at all of these changes. By looking at all of these changes, we are understanding all the biological mechanisms behind these diseases helping to develop new treatments.
Current treatments help with symptoms. Boost chemicals help nerve cells communicate – dont stop disease progressing. eg. Bad nights sleep – drink coffee. Doesn’t replace sleep debt but helps us feel more awake. -Donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine, galantamine, memantine. This is a major goal of research. But not only do we need to understand the diseases to find suitable targets, but we need to test these potential new treatments in the right people at the right time.
And this is why early detection of the diseases that cause dementia is so important. Not just detecting the disease at its earliest changes – being able to pick up very subtle changes but distinguishing between – accurate diagnosis. It means people can access the right treatments and support. It’s also essential for research, and clinical trials, as new treatments can be tested on the people who could benefit most, at the time when they are likely to be most effective. The first area we are investing in is diagnosis. At the moment there is no simple test to diagnose dementia, but diagnosis is vital. It means people can access the right treatments and support. It’s also essential for research, and clinical trials, as new treatments can be tested on the people who could benefit most, at the time when they are likely to be most effective. We’re investing in new ways to diagnose dementia including developing brain scans and a blood test. This is a really exciting area, and moving forwards very quickly. We hope that with our backing, a new blood test available in just a few years time. • Detecting disease at its earliest stages • Distinguishing between different causes of dementia eg. Alzheimer’s, dementia with Lewy bodies • Support, advice, treatments • Opportunities to participate in research studies
We have also come a long way in detecting dementia diseases and there are currently new types of brain scan in development which hope to be more accurate and sensitive – and allow different causes of dementia to be distinguished. We’re investing in new ways to diagnose dementia including developing brain scans which can pick up amyloid and tau. This is a really exciting area and is moving forward very quickly. Talk about any research going on at Network centre linked to this kind area – biomarker studies, brain scanning, DNA studies etc. Plug research.
We are also funding research into risk factors. We know for many diseases that cause dementia age is the biggest risk factor but research also suggesting what good heart good head. We have also funded breakthrough genetic studies shedding light on genes associated increased risk AD – couple years ago 2 studies 9 genes. Last november another gene – crucial for identifyiing important processes linked to disease. Research into other risk factors – head injury, infection, other diseases like diabetes, education, jobs, social activity. Complex picture – everyone different. Some people don’t do any of these and never get it, people healthy all life can still develop dementia. Working out how these risk factors work together is a tricky task.
How does current policy tackle the growing crisis of dementia? This year, the Prime Minister personally pledged to tackle dementia with ‘Dementia Challenge’. We strongly welcomed this as a step in the right direction. Alongside the pledges to improve care and introduce dementia friendly communities, Dementia Challenge outlines plans to ramp up the research response – an area which has arguably been the poor partner in the past. The headine - to double of funding to £66m by 2015 – is a major boost. A number of key commitments sit below this, including: Major investment in brain scanning and brain bank network Four new NIHR biomedical research units in dementia New funding for social science and public health research Encouraging participation in research Alzheimer’s Research UK is part of the Champion Group delivering this activity. We are providing support, expertise and ideas for forward thinking research initiatives to the table. Going forward, we will keep the pressure on to deliver this activity and encourage the governments of the future to commit to long term sustained funding
Finally, I have to say that none of this, and none of our research, would be possible without our wonderful supporters, donors and fundraisers. We have some fantastic fundraising events, from dinner parties (cook for a cure) to challenging people to rasie £1200 in our target twelve hundred. Our 9 mile big walk will take place again this year in Cambridge and it would be great to see you there. To find out more about any of these and how you can get involved, you can pick up information outside/ at the back
Funding world class research
Alison Cranage, Alzheimer’s Research UK
Alzheimer’s Research UK
is the UK’s leading charity
specialising in finding
preventions, treatments and a
cure for dementia
Why are we here?
know someone with
£23billion a year
cost of dementia to the economy
more spent on
So far we’ve spent
on dementia research
We’re currently supporting
Development of new treatments
Current treatments help with symptoms
• Donepezil, rivastigmine, galantamine, memantine
There are no treatments that can slow or stop the disease
To develop such treatments, we must
• UNDERSTAND the disease
• find suitable TARGETS for treatments
• test the treatment in the right PEOPLE at the right TIME
Research into risk factors and prevention
• Cardiovascular risk factors
• Healthy weight
• Balanced diet
• No smoking
• Control blood pressure & cholesterol
• Drinking within recommended limits
• New genes linked to risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s