Dementias Research Platform UK
The MRC Dementias Research Platform UK (DPUK) is a multi-million pound public-private partnership, developed and led by the Medical Research Council, to accelerate progress in, and open up, dementias research. The DPUK’s aims are early detection, improved treatment and ultimately, prevention, of dementias.
The dementias are a progressive, debilitating and presently incurable set of conditions characterised by neurodegeneration with a severe decline in cognitive functioning, including memory and communication. Over 600,000 people in the UK suffer from dementia, at a socioeconomic cost of over £17 billion a year.
The Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia was launched on 26 March 2012 in order to speed up the progress in prevention and treatment. As part of a range of activity to meet this challenge, the MRC is providing £12m funding for the Dementias Research Platform UK (DPUK) for an initial period of five years. This MRC funding is supplemented by £4m from six partner companies, a mixture of cash contributions and valuable company resources such as research tools, analytical capabilities and expertise. Investment has recently been significantly supplemented by £37m funding for networks of clinical research infrastructure, announced by the Chancellor on 23rd October 2014. Details below.
The DPUK is directed by Dr John Gallacher at the University of Cardiff, together with an executive team of investigators drawn from seven universities (Cambridge, Edinburgh, Imperial College London (ICL), Oxford, Newcastle, University College London (UCL) and Swansea), including the UCL-based MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing. The clinical research infrastructure award links DPUK with further universities, Manchester and Bristol.
About the UK Dementias Research Platform (DPUK)
The aim of the DPUK is to accelerate research progress and develop knowledge leading to new drug treatments and other therapies that could prevent or delay the onset and progression of dementias.
The DPUK is creating the world’s largest population study for use in dementias research, bringing together two million participants aged 50 and over, from 22 existing study groups within the UK. Included are people from the general population, people known to be at-risk of developing dementia, and people diagnosed with early-stage dementia.
By adding to information that we already know about the participants (such as their diet, exercise habits and previous infections) we hope to identify cognitive, genetic, physiological and imaging measures (biomarkers) to understand who is at risk of developing dementia and why the progression of dementia varies from person to person.
The DPUK is taking a new approach that considers what is happening to the health of the person – looking not just at the brain but at the brain in the context of the whole body – to identify those changes that may best be associated with the early stages of dementia. Emerging evidence has linked the development of dementia with inflammatory, cardiovascular and metabolic events and disorders, and the DPUK will be able to test these interactions, potentially identifying new treatment options to both manage symptoms, in the near term, and for preventive approaches in the longer term.
The platform will further allow the testing and validation of novel hypotheses by studying and comparing data from different DPUK cohorts. This will provide valuable feedback to inform future mechanistic research for example using stem cells or animal models.
John Gallacher, director of DPUK, explains more:
Clinical Research Infrastructure award
In addition to the £12m core funding for DPUK, the further award of £37m from MRC will establish three national networks for imaging, informatics and cell biology, to significantly enhance the UK’s research capacity in the dementias.
- Imaging Network - PET/MRI scanners will be installed at five universities (Cambridge, Edinburgh, ICL, Manchester and Newcastle), with a sharing of resources and expertise to facilitate the development of harmonized operating protocols for efficient multi-centre studies.
- Informatics Network – An integrated informatics environment will be established to bring together cohort and linkage data for the 2 million DPUK participants and help to co-ordinate the use of imaging and tissue sample resources for experimental medicine studies.
- Stem Cell Network – This will comprise co-ordinated programmes for the immortalisation of selected cell lines, high-throughput genome editing, and detailed cell phenotyping.
Industry partnership in the UK Dementias Research Platform
The DPUK is an ambitious new public-private partnership, linking a number of industry partners with a UK-wide network of academic excellence. Both industry and academic elements are crucial for its success, providing a valuable combination of skills and resources to spark new approaches that we hope will ultimately lead to new ways of treating people with dementia, including new drug treatments.
Six UK and international companies have signed a consortium agreement which will allow shared access to the research resources and the rich and unique data in the DPUK, and to provide a basis for instigating joint studies. The company partners are:
- MedImmune, the global biologics research & development arm of AstraZeneca
- Janssen Research & Development in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation
In addition to identifying new panels of biomarkers for the study of dementia, a key attraction to industry partners in the shorter term is the unrivalled access that the DPUK will provide to health information on 10,000 well-characterised participants who have early stages of dementia. Analysis of the accumulated knowledge will lead to new techniques for the accurate and early identification of dementia cases within population cohorts, the creation of new experimental medicine programmes, and clinical trials.
The DPUK is open to new industry partners. Companies seeking to engage with the DPUK should contact the platform director, Dr John Gallacher (DPUK), the project manager Allison Hanbury (DPUK) or Dr Stephen Meader (MRC). Companies may join the existing consortium either as a partner or through a 1:1 agreement for access to specified resources.
Using the UK Dementias Research Platform
The DPUK is being set up for use as a research resource for the scientific community.
Researchers intending to access the DPUK should contact Dr John Gallacher (as above) in the first instance. The DPUK will have a dedicated web site with a single portal for access which will be operational by autumn, 2014, a link to which will be provided on this page. There is also be a dedicated help line (08000 232000; Mon-Sat 8am-7pm). Data produced through research using the UK Dementias Research Platform will be made openly available to the scientific community as the project progresses.
Researchers should seek grant funding for their work through the usual MRC or other funding routes.
An example of an ongoing project that uses DPUK is below:
NIHR-MRC Dementia Deep and Frequent Phenotyping feasibility study for the DPUK
NIHR and MRC have jointly funded a £600,000 feasibility study for intensive phenotyping of 24 pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease patients. The study aims to identify biomarkers that change over periods of months, rather than years. It is led by NIHR Dementias Translational Research Collaboration director Professor Simon Lovestone (University of Oxford), and involves industry collaboration. The study will use an extensive range of MR imaging and cognitive testing along with additional clinical testing and biomarkers, at multiple frequent intervals over the course of three months. The goal is that these biomarkers could be used in a range of follow-on trials.
Governance of DPUK
For more information regarding DPUK please contact:
Institute of Primary Care & Public Health
Cardiff University School of Medicine
Cardiff CF14 4YS
Medical Research Council
2nd Floor, David Phillips Building
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon SN2 1FL