Scientists at the University of Edinburgh are embarking on a project that could bring new Alzheimer’s treatments a step closer, thanks to a £450,000 funding boost from Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Scottish Government. The award is the result of a joint funding call from the UK’s leading dementia research charity and the Scottish Government, who will each contribute £225,000 to research investigating the causes of memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease.
The three-year project, led by Dr Tara Spires-Jones, of the University of Edinburgh and co-investigators Dr Iris Oren and Dr Oliver Hardt, will study the molecular mechanisms that cause deterioration of synapses – connections between nerve cells that allow them to communicate with each other. This breakdown of synapses leads to the memory loss experienced by people with Alzheimer’s, and the researchers hope to find ways of protecting the synapses and preserving memory.
Collaborating with researchers in the US, the team will investigate whether two proteins called amyloid beta and tau, which accumulate in the brain in Alzheimer’s, work together to cause synapses to degenerate. The scientists will use cutting-edge techniques to study a new model of Alzheimer’s, as well as donated brain samples from people who died with the disease. As part of the study, they will also test treatments designed to target the tau protein. If this approach is successful, it could be the first step in the development of new treatments for people with the disease.
Dr Spires-Jones, a Reader and Chancellor’s Fellow in the Centre of Cognitive and Neural Systems at the University of Edinburgh, said:
“We are thrilled to have secured this funding, which will allow us to gain a much clearer understanding of the mechanisms at play in Alzheimer’s disease. There is still much we need to learn about the basic biology of Alzheimer’s in order to understand how to treat the disease, and the knowledge we gain from our research should inform clinical trials for much-needed new treatments. Our project will take a very collaborative approach and I’m pleased that we’ll be able to work closely with scientists from other institutions to move our research forward.”
Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson said:
“This Scottish Government recognises the future challenges that we face in relation to dementia. That is why earlier this year we published our second three-year National Dementia Strategy which will further improve diagnosis rates, transform the quality of post-diagnostic support and take forward a national action plan on improving care for people with dementia in hospitals.
“High quality care requires a strong scientific basis and Dr Spires-Jones’ research aims to provide just that – we are therefore very happy to be collaborating with Alzheimer’s Research UK to support her exciting work. We are also funding the Scottish Dementia Clinical Research Network and supporting the research of the new Scottish Dementia Research Consortium.”
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We’re delighted to be able to support this promising research with the Scottish Government, which should help answer some important questions that still remain about Alzheimer’s disease. Half a million people in the UK are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and it’s crucial for us to support research with clear potential to benefit those people. We firmly believe this study could bring us closer to an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, and we look forward to seeing the results of this research in due course.”