£375K Alzheimer’s funding boost for Milton Keynes scientist

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A leading dementia researcher based at The Open University in Milton Keynes, has secured nearly £370k of funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK for a pioneering new research project.

Dr Cheryl Hawkes and her team are embarking on a four-year study into how a protein called amyloid is cleared from blood vessels in the brain and how this process could go awry in Alzheimer’s disease.

The project is being funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the country’s leading dementia research charity. The charity, which relies entirely on public donations to fund its research, is currently funding over £26 million of research across the UK including over half a million pounds at The Open University.

Alzheimer’s disease is the result of physical changes that take place in the brain. A build-up of the amyloid protein is an early feature of the disease, and leads to other brain changes and ultimately damage to nerve cells and devastating symptoms like memory loss and personality change. Researchers believe that clearing amyloid from the brain could be an important way to prevent Alzheimer’s and Dr Hawkes will investigate how processes involved in regulating blood flow could play an important role in this clearance.

She said: “Blood flow in the brain is controlled by the release of chemical messengers from nerve cells that are damaged in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. We hope to discover whether a loss of communication between nerve cells and blood vessels could lead to a build-up of amyloid and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and a related disease called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA).

“We also plan to look at whether drugs that increase levels of these chemical messengers could improve the function of blood vessels and clear amyloid more effectively. We hope our findings will highlight the potential for using drugs that are already approved for conditions such as depression, in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and CAA. We are extremely grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for funding this important work.”

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK said:“This innovative project will help shed new light on what is currently a poorly understood process which could have an important role to play in maintaining a healthy brain as people age. Projects like this one are crucial for building our understanding of the diseases that cause dementia. We hope the knowledge gained from this study will help to pave the way to new treatments to help the 850,000 people affected by the condition nationally, nearly 7,000 of whom are living in Buckinghamshire.

“While awareness of dementia has been growing in recent years, funding for dementia research still lags far behind that of other conditions like cancer. Alzheimer’s Research UK doesn’t receive any government funding for the research projects we fund, so we’re very grateful to our supporters who make work like this possible.”