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22 June, 2014 - 17:12 By News Desk

Cambridge heavyweights lead dementia fight

Science Minister David Willetts

Cambridge UK medical technology heavyweights are in the front line of a battle to speed diagnosis and potential treatment of dementias.

MedImmune, IXICO, Johnson & Johnson Innovation (now with a Babraham base) and the University of Cambridge are in a consortium created by The Medical Research Council in the form of the UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP) – a £16 million public-private partnership set up to speed up research into dementias.

The collaboration aims to enable earlier detection, improved treatment and, ultimately, prevention of the disease, by looking not just at what is going wrong in the brain but at the brain in the context of the whole body.

With the UKDP, the MRC is bringing together industry expertise and investigator teams from eight UK universities and teaming them with what will be the world’s largest group of participants in dementias research (more than two million people).

The platform’s combination of skills and resources and focus on looking at the whole body in order to understand neurodegenerative disease aims to unearth completely new approaches for intervention – including new drug treatments.

The platform will investigate the causes of dementia across a range of different neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.

Key to this ‘whole body’ approach will be the study of data from two million volunteers aged 50 and over who have taken part in existing population studies such as UK Biobank and the Million Women Study.

Participants in these studies have generously provided a wealth of medical and lifestyle data which UKDP researchers will link to emerging biological data from genetic studies, brain imaging and cognitive testing.

Studying the data will give researchers a better understanding of who is at risk of getting dementia, possible triggers that lead to disease, and what might speed up or slow down its progression.

The resource will also allow scientists to identify better biological and cognitive measures (biomarkers) of the key changes associated with dementia. This will enable them to develop new and more accurate clinical trials and find ways to limit and improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected.

The project has attracted industry partners from both within the UK and abroad: Araclon; MedImmune, the global biologics research & development arm of AstraZeneca; GSK; IXICO; Janssen Research & Development in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation; and SomaLogic.

The academic partners are: Cardiff University (academic lead), University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University of Oxford, Swansea University and University College London.

Science Minister David Willetts said: “This new £16 million UK Dementia Platform will create the world’s largest ever study group for research into dementia, ensuring that data is freely available to support the work of international scientists in this very important area.

“The collaborative approach demonstrated by the Medical Research Council and its business partners through this platform is critical in helping us to achieve our target of doubling dementia research funding and making the UK the best place in the world to do life sciences.”


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