Understanding the genetics of the Brains for Dementia Research participants

Research project: Adding value to the Brains for Dementia Research cohort with additional genetic data.

Lead Investigator: Dr Keeley Brookes

  • Institution: Nottingham Trent University 
  • Grant type: Project grant 
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Amount: £167,438

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

An excellent evolution of the BDR project. i.e., adding genetic data which will be freely available via the Dementia Platform UK System. The potential for improvements regarding the knowledge of dementia will be so enhanced. As someone who has signed up for brain donation, I feel thrilled to see how the development of the BDR is progressing. It is just so exciting.'

'The route of this research will impact on all areas of dementia research.'

'The easy access will speed up other research, so help people with dementia in the future.'

Project summary

Brains for Dementia Research (BDR) is an initiative that has recruited thousands of people to help to understand dementia by studying data collected during their lives with their donated brain tissue.

This project aims to collect DNA samples of 820 participants that have enrolled in BDR, to understand how genetics may play a role in the signs of dementia seen in the brain after death.

The team believe that the more we understand about the underlying causes of the different types of dementia, the better chance we have of developing treatments that could slow down or even stop its progression.

The background 

Dementia has been shown to have a genetic aspect as to why it develops, and previous research has identified numerous genes that are associated with developing dementia.

Brains for Dementia Research is an initiative supported by Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, that has recruited thousands of people to help to understand dementia.

The team collect data about individuals during their lives and then store, analyse and distribute donated brain tissue of people with and without dementia after they die to researchers in the field.

This is essential to support their vital work, to understand the tiny changes in the brain seen in dementia and the factors that may influence these changes during our lives.

The research team has already obtained DNA for 1187 BDR participants and implemented a new type of analysis called “Polygenic Risk Score (PRS)”.  

Due to the overwhelming success of the BDR project, there are a further 1650 people that are enrolled to participate in the study, without any DNA data collected. It is important to have this data on as many of the BDR participants as possible to increase the accuracy to which we can detect the association of different genes with dementia. 

What does this project involve?

The research team will obtain DNA samples from 820 people enrolled in the BDR study and implement a Polygenic Risk Score (PRS). The PRS will add to the collected genetic data, to hopefully start to identify a person’s risk for developing dementia, using their genetic information.

As with previous data, the genetic information will be placed on UK scientific databases, such as Dementia Platform UK System, for researchers to see and use for any future research.

How will this project help people with dementia?

It is hoped that the PRS will be able to predict those individuals at high risk for developing dementia, and differentiate more accurately between the causes of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular and Lewy Body Dementia. 

In addition, future research with the PRS may lead to new treatment options and potentially pave the way towards personalised treatments dependent on the person's genetic information, so that the start of dementia is delayed or even prevented entirely.

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