Despite dementia sadly causing as many deaths as cancer, the world is still waiting for a treatment that can slow, stop or prevent it. Past clinical trials have returned disappointing results, but the UK DRI is here to turn this around.
Through fundamental discovery science, our researchers are deciphering disease mechanisms and feeding the pipeline for treatments through identification of promising drug targets. This work is laying the foundation for swift and successful clinical trials. Our unique structure with a single touch-point allows us to work at speed; partners have effective access to our national network of experts in discovery science, biomarkers and technology.
The first step in the search for effective treatments is to grasp the complex and poorly understood biological mechanisms that lead to the various conditions that cause dementia.
The majority of our researchers do this fundamental discovery science – it is the engine driving all dementia research and finding treatments would be impossible without it. For example, Dr Soyon Hong’s team are decoding the intricate symbiosis between specific immune cells and neurons to determine how and why this relationship can become dysfunctional and lead to the loss of synapses seen in dementia.
Once we know which biological processes lead to disease, we can find ways to intervene and slow or stop these. The diseases that cause dementia are varied and complex, so the possibilities are numerous and finding the right avenues to pursue is crucial. Prof Chris Shaw’s team engineer virus particles that deliver DNA to cells to correct gene mutations, which could otherwise lead to motor neurone disease or frontotemporal dementia. His team has created a gene therapy platform to help others across the institute design and test such therapies to deliver long lasting, cost effective and safe treatments for a range of neurodegenerative diseases.
Besides pinpointing opportunities to intervene in disease processes, much goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to make it possible for treatments to be developed and tested in clinical trials. Prof Henrik Zetterberg’s work focuses on developing ultrasensitive new blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions. Such tests will make it possible to match people to clinical trials before significant damage is done to the brain, and ultimately to intervene early with treatments.