UK MRC announces £16m dementia research project

The UK Dementias Research Platform will study data from more than two million people

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has unveiled the UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP), a £16m public-private partnership aimed at speeding up research into dementia.

The collaboration is seeking earlier detection, improved treatment and, ultimately, prevention of the disease, by looking not just at what is going wrong in the brain, but by taking a 'whole body' approach.

The project will link up pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca and GSK with teams from eight UK universities, led by Cardiff and including Cambridge, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle, Oxford, Swansea and University College London, teaming them up with more than two million people, the world’s largest study group for research into dementia.

The project will look not just at what is going wrong in the brain, but take a whole body approach

The UKDP will investigate the causes of dementia across a range of different neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease. It will study data from two million volunteers aged 50 and over who have taken part in existing population studies such as UK Biobank and the Million Women Study, linking it with emerging biological data from genetic studies, brain imaging and cognitive testing.

The data will hopefully enable scientists to identify better biomarkers of the key changes associated with dementia. This will enable them to develop 'new and more accurate clinical trials and find ways to limit and improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected'.

Dr John Gallacher, from Cardiff University and Director of the UKDP, said: 'We now know that neurodegeneration can be linked to changes taking place in parts of the body seemingly unrelated to the brain and many years before dementia is diagnosed.

'So it’s imperative that we look at the different stages of disease development: people who are yet to develop dementia; those who are known to be at risk of developing it, and those who are already in the early stages of the disease.

'By looking at the links between development of the disease and other factors – such as diet or illness – we hope to unearth targets for new drugs or new uses for existing drugs.'