Rising to the challenge

From our summer 2018 issue of Care and Cure magazine, Professor John O’Brien and Dr Gary Nestor discuss the National Institute for Health Research’s response to the Prime Minister’s dementia challenge.

In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron set a challenge that the UK should be a world leader in dementia by 2020. Research is a vital part of this.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is focused on leading the way in making England a supportive and inspiring place for the finest minds in dementia research to thrive. We are also working closely with other organisations to strengthen dementia research in the UK as a whole. Through a number of initiatives, we have been starting to make a difference.

Researchers in white coats stand at lab benches performing experiments

Supporting high quality research

Since the Prime Minister’s challenge, NIHR has launched three dementia-focused funding calls. A funding call is an invitation to researchers from around the country to apply for the money they need to carry out their research. In doing this, the NIHR has also increased the number of people living with dementia who have been able to join clinical trials.

Improving researcher training

Despite dementia being one of the biggest global health challenges that we face, five times fewer researchers choose to work in dementia than in cancer. The NIHR felt it was important to encourage researchers who are new to the field to learn the skills they’d need to succeed in dementia research.

The NIHR introduced a training and skills programme to their Clinical Research Network in 2014, and this has achieved great results. Meanwhile this year the NIHR launched a new website called Dementia Researcher, which provides a place for researchers to network and share ideas and opportunities. This will enable early career dementia researchers to flourish.

Making it easier to get involved

In 2016, NIHR collaborated with Alzheimer’s Society,  Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Scotland to launch Join Dementia Research.

Expanding the scope of research support

NIHR’s Clinical Research Network recently broadened its horizons to include health and social care research studies that take place outside NHS clinics. This means that the NIHR will now support studies run in residential care homes and by social care providers. We hope that this will give more people the chance to get involved in research studies – find out more at www.nihr.ac.uk/crn

Making a difference

The above initiatives are just a snapshot of NIHR’s work around dementia research, which will continue over the years ahead.

We are delighted to report that our efforts are paying off. Each year we have seen an increase in the number of dementia research studies and a greater recruitment of people to taking part in research trials. Since last spring, we have been proud to support over 249 dementia studies and have helped to recruit over 32,000 people to take part as research participants.

Hands holding a multi-coloured plastic model of a brain

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