This International Women’s Day, Dr Lucy Devendra, our new Head of Research tells us why she’s excited by the prospects for dementia research.
I always loved science at school and was fascinated by the human body and how it works, but I knew medicine wasn’t for me, so I chose to study Biology at University.
I’m originally from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire and my claim to fame is that I went to the same school as Dr Who, well Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to play the role.
I moved to Nottingham for university, then Leeds to do a PhD in paediatric cancers. I’ve been based ‘down south’ for the past 9 years, and now live in East London/Essex with my husband and 2.5 year old toddler who keeps me busy outside work!
I was inspired to make a difference to human health and decided to pursue a career in research, choosing to focus on cancer following the relatively sudden death of a family member from the disease.
After my PhD I decided that although I loved science, I didn’t want to pursue a career in academia and so moved into research administration at Cancer Research UK.
At Cancer Research UK I was fortunate to have a number of roles in different areas of research funding, and I helped set up and run a variety of schemes spanning small-scale pilot funding to an international challenge-led initiative called Cancer Grand Challenges.
After eight and a half years at Cancer Research UK, I felt the time was right to try pastures new.
My new role at Alzheimer’s Society is the perfect opportunity to use my skills and experience to tackle another challenge that is very close to my heart.
Like the majority of people, I have a personal connection to dementia, and I’ve seen first-hand how hard it can be, not only for the person living with the diagnosis, but their loved ones too.
Dementia research has been woefully underfunded compared to research into other diseases such as cancer, and this role allows me to make a difference by ensuring that our supporters’ donations are put towards the highest-quality research, that will make the biggest difference to people affected by dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society has an impressive track-record of investing in cutting-edge research into dementia, such as Professor Sir John Hardy’s research, which laid the foundation of the ground-breaking anti-amyloid drugs we’ve all been hearing about in the news over recent months.
Another thing that attracted me to Alzheimer’s Society is that everything the charity does is shaped by people affected by dementia – the voice of those affected is heard throughout the organisation which is very powerful and on a personal level, incredibly motivating.
There are some amazing women doing dementia research, but we need more.
Dementia is without a doubt is the biggest health and social care challenge we are facing. It is the most complex set of diseases, in the most complex organ, the brain and we need a diversity of thinking to tackle the challenge of dementia. We need the best people regardless of who you are, how you identify or where you come from.
It’s an exciting time in the field with the development of anti-amyloid drugs showing promise as treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. However, many challenges still remain. For example, we know that people with dementia are often diagnosed late, or not accurately diagnosed at all.
In England alone it’s estimated that there are over 250,000 people living with dementia without a diagnosis.
Getting a timely and accurate diagnosis is the gateway to accessing support, understanding symptoms, and planning for the future. My hope is that through increased investment in dementia research we can revolutionise how people with dementia are diagnosed, supported, treated and cared for. I also hope that we can understand other forms of dementia better and to drive those areas of research forward.
Last year Alzheimer’s Society launched a new Research Mission Statement which sets out a new direction of travel for dementia research from now till 2027.
My focus will be to implement these ambitions, a key factor being to align our research portfolio with the key points in a dementia journey that people affected by dementia have told us have the biggest impact on them.
Another key focus is to increase the number of researchers working in dementia
I’m keen to ensure we have the right schemes to support Early Career Researchers, especially clinicians and healthcare professionals looking to begin or continue a career in the field. My time at Cancer Research UK showed me the power of partnership, and so I’m very keen to explore how Alzheimer’s Society can continue to work with other organisations to have the most impact for everyone affected by dementia.
International Women's day is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate all the amazing work that women do to support people affected by dementia
Whether that’s the women working in biomedical research bringing hope for future diagnosis and treatment, or the women in care research, helping people living with dementia now. So many of our staff and volunteers are women, including our Chief Exec Kate Lee. We want to celebrate our supporters and fundraisers too, who make the research we fund possible. There are so many women making a real difference to people living with dementia.
I am proud of that fact that I am a woman in science, and proud to be working in an organisation which champions and supports diversity in research.