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More than £500,000 to fund dementia research at Exeter

More than half a million pounds of new cutting-edge research which aims to advance us towards a dementia cure and improve dementia care has been awarded to the University of Exeter Medical School by Alzheimer’s Society.

In the UK alone, more than 850,000 people live with dementia, and the figure is expected to rise to more than 1 million by 2021 if no action is taken. Currently, dementia costs the UK economy £26.3 billion each year, on top of the emotional burden on families and carers.

Now, a series of awards from Alzheimer’s Society to health researchers will help us to better understand what goes wrong in the brains of people with dementia so we can begin to work towards a cure. The new research will also look at better ways for people living with dementia today.

Dr Francesco Tamagnini and Professor Andrew Randall have been awarded nearly £200,000. The study, supported by global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, will look at how the mechanisms of electrical signalling in the brain are disrupted by dementia. Dr Tamagnini said: “I’m delighted to receive this award which will help in our combined quest towards defeating dementia. It is a challenging enemy, and these awards will help us combine our efforts in a range of fields.”

Professor Randall is also involved in collaborative research with Seth Love, Professor of Neuropathology in the School of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bristol. The £223,000 award will look into how key genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s impact on brain function.

Dr Katie Lunnon was awarded more than £200,000 to look at the role of genetic and epigenetic mechanism in Alzheimer’s Disease. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression caused by chemical tags being added to the DNA, which can "turn off" the gene within a cell. She said: “The processes by which genes are activated through epigenetic mechanisms can be affected by external factors, and it is crucial that we understand more about these changes going on in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, as they are potentially reversible”.

Dr Jo Thompson-Coon and Dr Iain Lang have been awarded £64,000 to improve dementia care. Dr Thompson-Coon said: “The way people with dementia are cared for is often at odds with what we know works best. Our aim in this project is to identify ways of ensuring that practice on the ground reflects our knowledge about how best to care for people with dementia.”

The news comes after the Alzheimer’s Society Exeter Doctoral Training Centre in Dementia Research launched at the University earlier this year, a training programme that will bring forward the next generation of researchers across a range of disciplines. Centre lead Professor Andy Randall said: “Such funding is key to tackling one of the greatest health challenges of our time. Although there is currently no cure for dementia, we are making huge strides in our understanding of this devastating disease, and these multiple awards to Exeter will help improve knowledge, treatment and care.”

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said: “We’re delighted to fund these exciting new research projects at Exeter. As a host of one of our recent Doctoral Training Centres, the University of Exeter is fast becoming a centre of excellence for dementia research in the UK. We hope the researchers can make real progress in understanding this condition that affects 13,000 people in Devon alone.”

Date: 20 May 2015