City singer champions dementia research

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Singer-songwriter David Read, whose mother died after long struggle with Alzheimer’s, is heading to Westminster to call for new measures to boost dementia research. David will travel to the House of Commons today (25 January) for the launch of a new report from Alzheimer’s Research UK, urging the Government not to squander the UK’s research potential.

The UK’s leading dementia research charity has challenged Government to avoid flash in the pan tactics on dementia research and commit to a national dementia research strategy. In a new report – Defeating Dementia – Alzheimer’s Research UK warns that the UK’s world-renowned dementia knowledge base could be lost unless scientists have better opportunities to enter and remain in the field.

The Defeating Dementia report will be launched at a House of Commons event, chaired by BBC 5 Live’s Shelagh Fogarty. The event will also feature Alzheimer’s Research UK patron Sir Terry Pratchett, the Department of Health’s National Clinical Director for Dementia Prof Alistair Burns, and 50 leading dementia scientists. Numbers of people living with dementia are spiralling towards one million as the population ages, costing the economy over £23billion – with some 5,000 people in Buckinghamshire alone affected by the condition. With the limited treatments available only alleviating some symptoms, pressure remains on research to deliver new drugs, preventions and improved diagnosis. However, a history of underinvestment has left dementia research undermanned and underfunded.

Recent initiatives from Government and other research funders have helped, with one-off themed calls for dementia research and some increases in investment. However, the field is still dwarfed by provision for research into cancer and heart disease both of which do not pose the same degree of challenge to society and the economy. For every dementia scientist, over six work in cancer.

The Defeating Dementia report pulls together the opinions and experiences of 120 dementia scientists across the UK. The report makes 14 recommendations to the Government and all research funders to help boost capacity and create a research environment better suited to the challenge posed by dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK believes a national dementia research strategy should encourage ring-fencing of funding for dementia research; greater flexibility and calculated risk taking to foster innovation; boost research to improve disease understanding and accelerate treatment development. The charity is also calling for a simplification of funding applications, and the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy which comes at the expense of productive research time.

David Read, 57, from North Crawley, has been made a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK in recognition of his exceptional support as a spokesperson and fundraiser. His mother Janet died with Alzheimer’s in 2008 and since then he has worked tirelessly to raise money and raise awareness of the need for more research. He’s produced a CD, staged two music concerts and has further plans for 2012. He aims to raise £30,000 to pay for a complete dementia research project.

He said: “It was heartbreaking to watch my mother slowly become another person. Alzheimer’s gradually claimed her whole body rather than just her brain. I was inconsolable when she died but with encouragement I put my feelings into song. I recorded an album and put it to good use to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. So much more needs to be learnt about this cruel disease and it can only be achieved through research.

“I can’t turn my back on what happened to my mother and I’ve made it my mission to do everything I can to help Alzheimer’s Research UK. More scientists and support for their work are desperately needed to make strides towards defeating dementia. It’s devastating to think that existing dementia knowledge could be lost. If I can encourage more people to get behind our dementia scientists, to help them find new treatments and one day a cure, then my mother’s experience won’t have been for nothing.”

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It is right that we pay serious attention to the care challenge that dementia poses today and tomorrow, but we can’t just paper over the cracks. The only answer to dementia lies in research that will deliver new treatments and preventions.

“Government and other funders have taken some positive steps towards boosting research efforts in the UK, but we can’t rely on flash in the pan tactics. Through our recommendations, we are challenging all funders to take an essential long term view on dementia research. If we can’t boost the number of scientists working on dementia, then we will fail the 820,000 living with dementia today, and we will be powerless to avert the looming increases in prevalence.”

The full Alzheimer’s Research UK Defeating Dementia report is available for media preview from http://bit.ly/xrz5DK and publicly available after embargo at 00:01 on 25 January from www.alzheimersresearchuk.org