The award is one of eight such research centres opening across the UK, totalling a new investment of £5 million to support 55 PhD students and clinical research fellows in dementia research.
The new centre, led by Professor Alan Thomas, will focus on a Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) which is second to Alzheimer’s Disease as the most common form of late onset dementia and accounts for up to 20 per cent of all dementia cases.
People with DLB commonly have symptoms other than memory loss such as vivid hallucinations, disturbed sleep, depression and problems with walking, and these non-cognitive symptoms are extremely distressing for people with the condition and those who care for them.
Newcastle University is a world leader in Dementia with Lewy Bodies and played a key role in developing the current diagnostic criteria for the condition. This new doctoral training centre, funded by Alzheimer’s Society, will build on the University’s strengths by supporting five new PhD students to research some of the less well understood symptoms of DLB.
Research shows that on average people with DLB have a lower quality of life than people with other forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease and current treatments for the non-cognitive symptoms of DLB are extremely limited.
By understanding more about these symptoms and how they relate to memory loss, this research will lead to better diagnosis and assessment of the symptoms and potentially to better treatments to help people with DLB enjoy a better quality of life.
Chester-le-Street resident Ken Clasper, a former electrical engineer who is living with Dementia with Lewy Bodies, said:
“I think it is a good time to get more evidence of the causes of this illness, in the hope that a cure may well be found in the future.”
“I know that this illness is very difficult to diagnose correctly, and therefore I think this is a wonderful opportunity to get more research done in Lewy Body Dementia
“In Newcastle they have a world renowned base for research into this form of dementia, and I can think of no better people to do this research.
“I know that it is certainly not a pleasant illness to live with, and no matter what you may be told about it at the time of the diagnosis this can never inform the person just what they are going to face, when living with the illness.
“I for one look forward to hearing more about this research project in the hope that it provides some answers in the future.”
The investigations into DLB will be spearheaded by Professor Thomas, the lead researcher of the Newcastle Doctoral Training Centre, which will be based at the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Unit, a partnership between Newcastle NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust and Newcastle University.
Prof Thomas (pictured) said: “Dementia with Lewy bodies causes a diverse range of non-cognitive symptoms such as hallucinations, falls and problems with walking that have a huge impact on patients and their families.
“The distress this disease causes and the care burden it presents make it vital that we learn more about the symptoms and find better treatments for them, something that this new doctoral training centre will help us to achieve.”
A history of poor investment in dementia research has led to a limited number of researchers working in dementia compared to other health conditions.
The new Doctoral Training Centres represent a strong commitment from the Alzheimer’s Society to bolster the size of the dementia research community, which will accelerate the rate of progress towards better dementia care, new treatments and ultimately a cure.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
“There’s a huge amount of progress being made by the dementia research community but unless we attract and train the best young talent we will limit how quickly we can make ground breaking discoveries.
“For too long dementia research has been underfunded and as a result we have significantly fewer scientists than other conditions, with six times more people working in cancer than dementia.
“If we’re going to defeat dementia we need to give the best brains the right opportunities and build a research workforce that is fit for the future. That’s why we’re proud to be announcing the largest investment of its kind, which will see £5 million committed to create the next generation of dementia researchers. People with dementia deserve nothing less than an all-out fightback against the condition and our Doctoral Training Centres will help us enlist the right people to lead it.”
Newcastle University is site of the new National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in his Autumn Statement. The University, through its Institute for Ageing, carries out a wide range of research focused on helping us to live healthier lives, including studies into the impact of physical activity and exercise on healthy ageing.