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The new equipment is vital to a number of dementia projects at the university

Leading dementia research charity funds vital equipment at the University of Exeter

Alzheimer’s Research UK has committed nearly £30,000 to support pioneering dementia research at the University of Exeter.

Dementia is a condition caused by physical diseases in the brain. This is the message at the heart of Alzheimer’s Research UK award-winning awareness campaign, Share the Orange. Leading Hollywood actor Samuel L Jackson, stars in the latest campaign video, released this World Alzheimer’s Month.

Although we know many of the brain changes associated with dementia, the exact mechanisms causing the condition are not fully understood. Unravelling the complex biology of these diseases is crucial for developing treatments to help the more than 200,000 people who develop dementia each year.

Researchers including Prof Jonathon Mill at the University of Exeter are looking at the role of epigenetic changes in Alzheimer’s disease. Epigenetic changes occur when chemical tags attach to sections of DNA, affecting whether a gene is switched on or off.  Researchers believe this is one way that a person’s environment may influence their genetics and affect their risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Now, Prof Mill has received new funding from the UK’s leading dementia research charity, to help accurately measure these epigenetic changes in specific areas of the genome.

The funding will allow the University to buy a state-of-the-art machine that will be used to measure key epigenetic changes in human brains donated through the Brains for Dementia Research (BDR) programme. BDR is a world-class research resource that has recruited over three thousand volunteers who take part in regular memory and thinking assessments and have pledged to donate their brains to dementia research when they die.

This piece of new equipment will be vital not only for Prof Mill but also scientists across the University of Exeter, who are working on a number of pioneering dementia research projects. The University of Exeter has also committed £15,000 towards the equipment.

Prof Jonathan Mill, from the University of Exeter, said: "We know a complex mix of genetic and lifestyle factors are involved in Alzheimer’s disease and epigenetics represents a way that these influences potentially interact. We have pioneered the identification of epigenetic changes occurring in regions of the brain involved in dementia.

"This new equipment will revolutionise our ability to measure these changes in the brain, providing new insight and facilitating collaborative research across the University of Exeter. My team will use this equipment for research that is only possible thanks to people who have generously donated their brains so that we can make progress towards better understanding and tackling devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s."

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: "Unravelling the complex genetics underpinning the causes of dementia will require significant investment – not only for specific research projects but also for the sophisticated tools that they rely on.

"Vital equipment like this will benefit many dementia researchers across the University of Exeter, which is a world-leading centre for dementia research. With dementia affecting 87,000 people in the South West alone, and this number set to rise, we are delighted to support this critical piece of equipment. So many people up and down the country have been sharing our #ShareTheOrange campaign to raise awareness of the need for research so it’s fantastic to be able to be supporting research in Exeter."

For more information on research here in Exeter, visit the dementia webpages and follow #ExeterDementia on Twitter.

Date: 30 September 2019