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MRC project aims to unite UK’s dementia research

A new £5 million programme aims to bring dementia research projects at universities across the UK together under one umbrella.

The UK Dementias Research Platform (UKPD), funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), aims to coordinate research efforts following fears that “little progress” has been made in our understanding of the disease in recent years.

The five-year project begins in April and is so far set to include research groups based at eight UK universities – including the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Cardiff, and University College London, Imperial College, and King's College London.

But the project’s leaders are also inviting other universities engaged in dementia research to join.

The programme follows Prime Minister David Cameron’s call in 2012 for the UK to make major improvements in dementia awareness, quality of care and research by 2015.

The disease affects 670,000 people in England today - and this number is set to double over the next three decades.

According to UKPD leader Dr John Gallacher, programme leader on healthy ageing at the University of Cardiff, progress with research into the disease has plateaued in recent years.

He said work now needs to be done to bring the UK’s disparate dementia research groups together to improve efficiency.

“Dementia is a growing problem in our society, and it is also a fairly terrible thing to have. But we have made very little progress over the last 10 years in our understanding of the disease.

“With this project, we are saying ‘let’s put some bigger research behind this’. What we would like to do is to bring together all the resources in the UK as efficiently as possible and as quickly as possible.”

The project pools the work and resources of 22 research centres across the eight participating universities, such as the Oxford Parkinson's Disease Centre, at the University of Oxford, and University College London’s Dementia Research Centre. The centres field an impressive two million study participants between them.

The research centres will be able to benefit from a share of the £5 million funding which has already been announced. Teams will also be able to share datasets, findings and resources with other groups across the country.

Dr Gallacher said a key priority would be finding out more about the molecular mechanisms underlying dementia.

“There will be many significant benefits. We would like to do bigger and better and cheaper studies. We will be able to have much greater statistical power in our analysis. We will be able to share protocol. We may also be able to have a little bit more economic clout, and may be able to buy resources for studies in bulk.

“We have a very inclusive approach to this. I work with some very clever scientists, and I want to help them carry out their work so we get the very best results as possible.”

The first step of the project is to get all the data from the different centres so that large scale statistical analysis on the two million participants can begin. In time, the project aims to develop experimental medicines and conduct clinical trials to assess their effectiveness.

• Any universities interested in joining the project should get in touch with Dr Gallacher on 02920 687 238 or email Gallacher@cf.ac.uk.