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Katie Lunnon and her team will receive nearly £900,000 funding towards dementia research

Exeter receives nearly £900,000 to fund dementia research

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School have been awarded up to £900,000 to fund leading research into epigenetic causes of dementia.

The funding consists of £709,000 from the Medical Research Council (MRC), on top of an additional £190,000 in studentships funded by Exeter alumni, to investigate the cause of a group of diseases involving protein clusters in the brain known as Lewy bodies.

The team will use the MRC funding to investigate the cause of Lewy body diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Parkinson’s disease dementia and Dementia with Lewy Bodies. These diseases can have similar clinical symptoms, which can make diagnosis difficult.

Major genetic differences between the sufferers of people with these diseases and unaffected individuals have been hard to identify, therefore the team have speculated that epigenetic differences are involved.

Epigenetic processes are chemical tags added to the DNA which turns genes on and off, and can be influenced by external factors such as the environment in which cells dwell.

The team, led by Professor Katie Lunnon Associate Professor of Epigenetics, aims to use state-of-the-art genomic technology to demonstrate that these epigenetic changes are causing such diseases.

The research will be conducted in collaboration with King’s College London and the University of Cambridge.

Katie said: “We are incredibly grateful to have received this funding. It is extremely exciting to work towards a new insight into a relatively under-researched disease. We hope our research will tell us how genes are differently regulated in these devastating diseases – which could in turn help us understand the causes and lead to more personalised, or perhaps new, approaches to treatment.”

Katie Lunnon’s team recently published some of the first studies showing that epigenetic changes are consistently seen in Alzheimer’s disease brain samples. Five million people worldwide live with Dementia with Lewy bodies, making it the second most common age-related dementia behind Alzheimer’s disease. Yet there is far less public awareness about Dementia with Lewy bodies, which is frequently misdiagnosed. The disease develops differently, and symptoms can include more severe and frequent hallucinations and intense agitation.

Three additional PhD students will soon take up posts thanks to the Thomas/Crooke Studentship, the Charles Wolfson Studentship, and the John Slate Studentship.

These studentships are funded by alumnus David Thomas (Mathematics 1965) and Alex Crooke, the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, and alumnus John Slate (History and Archaeology 1986), and will fund research into

Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, and levels of DNA methylation in the brain respectively.

On the studentships, Katie said: “Supporting PhD students in this way also ensures that we are developing the next generation of top dementia researchers, so that we can continue to tackle challenges into the future.”

Date: 25 January 2019