Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at the Alzheimer’s Society, looks at the future of dementia research.
When it comes to dementia, the numbers and statistics can be frightening. This devastating condition is expected to affect one million of us by 2021. It’s the only one of the top ten causes of death in the UK that we can’t prevent, cure or even slow down.
However, in amongst these worrying statistics there lies hope. Researchers across the globe are working together to tackle the many questions that surround dementia.
The tide is turning
One of the questions we get a lot in the Research and Development team here at Alzheimer’s Society is ‘why isn’t there a cure for dementia yet?’ The answer is that dementia is a collection of dizzyingly complex conditions each with multiple potential causes, very few of which are clearly known.
Another reason for the lack of a cure is that historically, dementia research has been chronically underfunded. An analysis published in 2015 found that for every £10 dementia cost the economy, only 8p of that was spent on research. The equivalent spend on cancer research was over £1.
The number of dementia researchers has doubled in the last six years. It's exciting to see more and more researchers choosing to dedicate their lives to finding the answers that thousands of people need
The good news is that the tide is beginning to turn. The number of dementia researchers has doubled in the last six years. It is fantastic to see that through the efforts of Alzheimer’s Society and others, more and more researchers are choosing to dedicate their lives to finding the answers that thousands of people need: What causes dementia? Can it be cured or prevented? How can we best care for those affected?
We are also beginning to see much more being invested in research.
The cornerstone of this investment is the £250 million Dementia Research Institute. This represents a huge commitment from government, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, working together to capitalise on the tremendous momentum that has built up in the dementia research community and will drive innovation and scientific discovery forwards.
But it doesn’t stop there, with Alzheimer’s Society’s pledge to invest at least £150 million in dementia research over the next decade.
We are committed to seeing the research continue, which is no less than what people with dementia and their carers deserve.
The future of dementia research
Alzheimer’s Society is leading the way when it comes to dementia research. For example, our innovative Drug Discovery programme is investigating whether drugs that exist for other conditions can benefit people with dementia. This approach could halve the time it takes to bring a drug to the people who need it.
We are also unique in our approach to improving care for people affected by dementia.
We are the leading UK charity that funds research into dementia care and we have already seen amazing results from our investment. This includes contributing towards a trial that has shown that keeping people on the Alzheimer’s drug donepezil for longer can be beneficial even in the later stages of the disease. Another important study found ways to reduce the use of harmful antipsychotic medication for people affected by dementia.
Research funded by Alzheimer’s Society has discovered promising avenues for new treatments, it has shown that specialised brain training games can improve memory and thinking in people over 50 and identified a diabetes drug that is now in trials for Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s just to name a few.
Ongoing projects range from understanding more about the genetics of dementia to untangling the role of the immune system in the disease process, finding ways to prevent dementia and understanding how to provide the best care in all stages of the condition.
Research is United Against Dementia
You will hopefully have seen how our new brand comes with the urgent call to 'unite against dementia'.
This is especially true for our researchers, as it’s only through collaboration and sharing of ideas that we will make the discoveries and breakthroughs that we need to see. Many of our projects are also co-funded or supported by other organisations.
It also means that anyone can unite with us. We are incredibly grateful to the thousands of people who run, walk, bake, sing and do crazy challenges to help us to fund our groundbreaking research. By donating to our research programme, you are helping us to make up for years of lost time due to underfunding and to drive dementia research forwards.
Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer, but research can find a way to stop it in its tracks.