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UK takes the lead in dementia research

Tagged In:  Allied Health

The UK Dementia Research Institute will be a major boost for efforts to transform treatment, care and prevention.

"Dementia is one of the biggest challenges we face today – and it is one that we as a society simply cannot afford to ignore any longer." So said David Cameron in the foreword to his Prime Minister's Challenge on Dementia, published in 2012. 

Now the UK has taken a huge step forward in rising to this challenge with the establishment of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI). The landmark project is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer's Research UK. It will have its hub at University College London (UCL), but will ultimately operate in a number of locations across the country.

The UK DRI will be headed by Professor Bart De Strooper, formerly leader of the Laboratory for the Research of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Leuven in Belgium. "I am delighted to have been chosen to lead on a world-leading initiative with as much potential as the UK DRI," said Professor Strooper. "The research landscape in the UK is brimming with talent and opportunity and, thanks to the NHS, research is closely allied to patients."

There are around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and the Alzheimer's Society believes this figure could rise to over one million by 2021. The current economic impact on the UK is estimated at over £26 billion per year, including an allowance of £11.6 billion for unpaid care provided by families. Over £14 billion is spent on health and social care for people living with dementia, which involves a wide range of professionals, including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and carers.

Efforts over the last few years to raise awareness of this huge health and care challenge seem to be paying dividends. In its Annual Review 2017, Alzheimer's Research UK announced that its income rose by 24% in 2015-16, with voluntary donations in excess of £20 million for the first time in its history. Almost 25 million people in the UK know a family member or friend with dementia, and research has shown that it's the number one health concern for 52% of people over 60.

Despite dementia costing the UK economy more each year than cancer, there are currently approximately 19,000 fewer dementia researchers than those working in cancer, according to Alzheimer's Research UK. The UK DRI aims to transform dementia research by connecting researchers working across different disciplines, including those outside the dementia field, as well as attracting leading experts from across the UK and the world. Further announcements on the nationwide centres are expected soon, with further recruitment of DRI scientists taking place throughout 2017.

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