Developing a cell library resource for dementia research

Lead Investigator: Professor Martin Rossor

Institution: University College London

Grant type: Project

Grant amount: £113,291 (This project was jointly funded by Alzheimer's Society and the Bupa foundation)

Start date: January 2011

Completion date: December 2012

Scientific Title:  Patient specific cell models of familial dementia

What was the project, and what did the researchers do?

One of the tools used to study dementia in the lab is the use of cells grown within the lab – these can be used to investigate why nerve cells (neurones) die in dementia and how certain genes play a role in this. 

Some of these cells can be difficult to grow or change in the right ways to understand dementia. The researchers aimed to get around these issues by growing brain cells that are created directly from people with genetic forms of dementia.

Previous research has shown that it is possible to convert cells, such as skin cells, into stem cells, which can then grow into nerve cells (neurones). The cells are grown from a small skin biopsy into neurones in dishes in the lab. Using cells from people with genetic forms of dementia means that the nerve cells grown will also have the genes that cause dementia – this allows the researchers to understand what happens as a result of these genes.

Once these nerve cells are created, a small number can be used for research and the rest kept to produce more for future use – this is called a 'cell line'.

What were the key results, and how will this help in the fight against dementia?

So far, the researchers have generated cell lines from 30 people carrying genes that cause dementia. These have been sent for storage with a partner in the US, so that they can be requested by any research group wanting to use them. 

Studying these cells will give us a better understanding of why brain cells die in dementia, and will help future researchers to develop ways to stop these changes from happening, potentially giving clues about treatments for dementia.

What happened next? Future work and additional grants

The researchers are continuing to expand the collection of cell lines as more genetic changes related to dementia are discovered.

They are also using these cells in their studies investigating how these genes cause cell death.

How were people told about the results? Conferences and publications


  • Wray, S et al (2012). Creation of an open-access mutation-defined fibroblast resource for neurological disease research. PLOS One.

Presentations at Scientific Conferences

  • International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders, Hawaii 2010
  • Biochemical Society focussed meeting on tau and the tauopathies, Cambridge 2012
  • Alzheimer’s Research UK Network Meeting, Birmingham, 2012
  • Alzheimer’s Society Annual Research Conference, 2011 & 2012
  • International Conference on FTD research, Manchester 2012
  • Zing Conference on Neurodegeneration, Mexico, 2012

Oral Presentations at patient meetings

  • Familial Alzheimer’s Disease support group, London, 2011
  • Alzheimer’s Research UK Public Meeting, London, 2011
  • Pick’s Disease support group, London, 2012
  • International Conference on FTD Research Caregivers Session, Manchester, 2012