Alzheimer’s Disease :: A century of Alzheimer’s is 100 years too many

Today marks a bittersweet anniversary for one Cambridge-based national charity, as the Alzheimer?s Research Trust marks 100 years since the discovery of the disease by the German neurologist Dr Alois Alzheimer.

A century on from Alzheimer?s first scientific lecture about the new disease he had found in his patient, a 51-year-old housewife called Auguste D, the disease now affects more than 500,000 people in the UK.

Currently, the cost of care for Alzheimer?s in the UK is more than that for cancer, heart disease and stroke combined, and the number of people with the disease will double within the next twenty years if no cure or treatment can be found. However while the number of people affected by Alzheimer?s is approximately equal to the number of cancer patients in the UK, just ?11 of dementia research per patient is funded each year in the UK compared to ?289 for every person with cancer.

The Alzheimer?s Research Trust (ART), founded in 1992, is the leading UK Alzheimer?s research charity funding the best research in Alzheimer?s disease and related dementias across the UK.

Because of the strength of research in Cambridge the city is home to the highest number of projects funded by the charity in the country ? with 13 out of 91 grants awarded to local researchers ? worth ?2.4 million. The local fund-raising group CAMART and many other supporters often specify that they want their donations to go to the city and ART is happy to direct funds to projects that most interest their donors.

Here are some of the projects ART helps to fund in Cambridge:

? Dr Kim Graham is using a ?685,000 grant to developing sensitive, accurate, easy-to-use memory tests for diagnosing the different forms of dementia
? Dr Michel Goedert is developing innovative experimental models to find out more about the brain changes that occur in Alzheimer?s ? and also in Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson?s ? due to the abnormal build up of a protein called tau. In a five-year project that will cost ?466,000 Dr Goedert is exploring these models to find out how the rate of nerve cell death can be slowed.
? Dr Michael Coleman is investigating a newly-discovered gene that seems to have the potential to protect nerve cells. Having developed a new method of imaging nerve cells, his group is now studying the functions of this gene in detail to see what implications it might have for future treatment, using a ?250,000 grant.

The charity is also helping fund the scientists of tomorrow, through four PhD and research fellowships based in the city.

PhD scholar Samrah Ahmed is working with Professor John Hodges, to continue the development of easy-to-use memory tests to diagnose different types of dementia.

Research fellow Dr Sarah Lambourne, is investigating a family of molecules, normally linked to the regulation of cell death, to see how they are involved in Alzheimer?s. This could open the way for new treatments.

Another research fellow, Shahin Zibaee will be studying alpha-synuclein, a protein that has a role in the development in Parkinson?s disease and Lewy Body dementia.

And Dr Laura Gasparini will be working on developing models to study another protein, tau. This protein changes in Alzheimer?s disease and other dementias, forming tangles, which kill the nerve cell.

Alzheimer?s Research Trust Chief Executive Rebecca Wood said: ?The centenary is a bittersweet anniversary for people involved in fighting this terrible disease. We have come a long way in 100 years but so much more needs to be done and all the while government funding remains consistently low.

?Alzheimer?s disease is a terrible disorder but we?re extremely fortunate in Cambridge to have one of the foremost centres of excellence in research in the country. We hope that by funding more and more projects of this calibre, we?ll be able to make the breakthrough we need to help prevent or treat Alzheimer?s disease in the future. As far as we?re concerned, one century of this awful disease is already one century too many.?

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