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Oxford Scientist Awarded £39K Funding Boost from Leading Dementia Research Charity

Alzheimer’s Research UK has announced support for pioneering dementia research at the University of Oxford. The news comes during Dementia Action Week (16-22 May), a national campaign that encourages people to take action on dementia.

Dementia is the umbrella term given to a group of symptoms including memory and thinking problems, communication difficulties and personality changes. Different diseases can cause dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common. There are nearly a million people in the UK affected by dementia, with around 8,500 in Oxfordshire alone.

A hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the build-up and spread of amyloid protein in the brain. Researchers think that this sets off a chain of events leading to the loss of nerve cells and the symptoms of dementia.

The new £39K of funding will allow Prof Colin Akerman and his team from University of Oxford to investigate whether changes in cholesterol in the brain can lead to the build-up of amyloid protein in Alzheimer’s disease.

Diet plays an important part in regulating cholesterol in the body, but cholesterol in our brains does not come from our food, and is instead made by specialised cells called astrocytes. Researchers don’t yet understand how astrocytes regulate their cholesterol production in the brain or why this changes in Alzheimer’s.

Using cutting-edge techniques to grow these specialised brain cells in a dish, the team of Oxford scientists will investigate the mechanisms that regulate cholesterol production by astrocytes.

Prof Colin Akerman at the University of Oxford, said:

“Cholesterol levels are normally tightly regulated in the brain, but there is mounting evidence that excess cholesterol contributes to the brain changes seen in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“To understand how cholesterol production by astrocytes goes awry in Alzheimer’s, we need to learn how healthy astrocytes regulate their cholesterol production.

“Thanks to this new funding, we will be able to explore whether changes in cholesterol production cause nearby nerve cells to produce harmful fragments of amyloid – a protein central to the development of Alzheimer’s.”

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“With currently 944,000 people with dementia in the UK, more than ever before, it is vital that we invest in dementia research. Fundamental research projects such as this one underway at Oxford will allow us to better understand the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease and highlight potential new targets for future dementia treatments.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK remains committed to funding the best science and Oxford has a strong dementia research community. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters across the country, we can continue to fund research and drive progress towards new treatments for people living with the condition.”