Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at Alzheimer's Society, discusses what needs to be done to ensure the next generation of dementia leaders is supported and thrives in their field.
Although 1 in 3 people born today will develop dementia there is just 1 dementia researcher for every 4 cancer researchers.
We are entering an exciting moment in dementia research. In recent months we have seen results of the first drugs ever shown to be effective in slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
These new discoveries made headlines around the world and have led to renewed hope that the beginning of the end for dementia could finally be in sight.
More than ever, we need researchers working to stop these devastating diseases of the brain – but how can we ensure talented researchers stay in the field?
They love their work, but lack of funding and job insecurity leads to many leaving research in pursuit of other career opportunities.
At Alzheimer’s Society we say that research is hope. We’ve supported early career researchers (ECRs) since we started funding research over 30 years ago.
One of the first ECRs we supported in the mid 1990s was Professor Nick Fox - then a research fellow - who carried out work on the detection of Alzheimer's disease in people at high risk of developing the disease (but not yet showing symptoms).
Professor Fox found changes in the brains of people who went on to develop a rare genetic form of Alzheimer's disease several years before symptoms appeared. This work redefined our understanding of when the diseases which cause dementia start and shifted established thinking on when we can try to begin treating these conditions.
We need ECRs – what do they need from us?
Over 2021/22 we asked a wide range of ECRs what support they needed to stay in dementia research.
They told us they needed flexible funding schemes, opportunities to network with the wider research community, pay for family and sick leave and support to return to research.
Following the feedback, we revamped our funding schemes and remain one of the only funders to cover family and sick leave for PhD students.
Our partnership with the Daphne Jackson Trust helps researchers get back into research after a break of two years or more. But too many researchers remain locked out of continuing their career due to a lack of equality and inclusion - we need to do more.
The Alzheimer’s Society ECR Retreat held over the last two days in Newcastle gave researchers opportunities to network, which will hopefully mean future collaboration and discovery.
The workshops and talks over the last few days also addressed some of the practical matters that often act as obstacles to staying in research, such as how to write an effective grant application and how to discuss a complex research project in a lay friendly way.
Investment in early career researchers is investment in the future. Without researchers we cannot grasp the life-changing breakthroughs we need to end the devastation of dementia.
Support dementia research
You can continue to support our early career researchers through donations or sharing their work with your networks. Together, we will beat dementia.