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UK Dementia Research Institute

Image copyright Mark Bastin and Dave Liewald

MRC and its founder charity partners the Alzheimer's Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK are to establish a national UK Dementia Research Institute (DRI) in fulfilment of the ambition identified in Prime Minister's 2020 Challenge on Dementia. The DRI will lead the UK’s dementia research efforts aimed at transforming the treatment and care that people with dementia receive as well as lead the way in identifying risk reduction strategies for future generations.

Dementia is not a single disease but rather a term to describe a number of illnesses that predominantly affect people over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to two thirds of all dementia cases. Around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and its incidence will continue to grow as the population ages, with the number of people affected projected to reach 2 million by 2051. There is currently no cure for any of the neurodegenerative conditions that give rise to dementia, which represents one of the toughest medical and economic challenges facing our society today.

A joint MRC / Alzheimer’s Society / Alzheimer’s Research UK investment of £250M will create a national Institute which will bring together world-leading expertise in biomedical, care, public health and translational dementia research. Centred around the need for innovative, discovery science to unlock our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the development and progression of the dementias, the DRI’s research will invigorate the therapeutic pipeline and drive new approaches to diagnosis, treatment, care provision and prevention.

The new Institute will be catalytic for the UK's dementia research effort, and will be built in a way that optimally connects existing capabilities within the UK research landscape and engages emerging research opportunities. In particular the DRI will connect to the momentum already created through the establishment of the MRC Dementia Platform UK and the NIHR Translational Collaboration in Dementia Research, and will align to recent charity-led efforts in the area of drug development, for example the ARUK Drug Discovery Alliance. The DRI will also proactively seek industry and international partners in delivering its mission.

DRI ambition

The DRI will assemble the necessary critical mass of world-leading researchers and provide access to cutting edge tools and capabilities in order to:

  • Accelerate the pace of discovery research to identify new targets for drug development
  • Develop new approaches for delivering effective clinical trials to targeted patient groups
  • Attract new partnerships with the biopharmaceutical sector to develop new therapeutics and diagnostics and
  • Develop and promote strategies for interventions that prevent the development or progression of dementia
  • Provide new insights and technology-based approaches to delivering more effective care and support to people with dementia and their carers.

DRI structure

The DRI is to be established with a central hub and regional centres to both build upon existing strengths in UK dementia research and incorporate new dimensions and capabilities. In doing so, the DRI will maximize its scientific potential through facilitating links to existing infrastructure in translational, clinical and care research.

The DRI hub and centres will constitute a single, unified entity that will function across several different sites. Its budget and scientific direction will be under the control of an inspirational and visionary director. The location of the hub and centres will be selected in open competition, which will be run in parallel to the appointment of the DRI director during 2016. The scientific programmes within the DRI will be established in 2017.

The first phase of identifying the hub and centres will focus on the biomedical research agenda of the DRI, with the care and public health activity to be integrated later in the DRI development, once momentum has been established. Capital investment will provide the necessary equipment and facilities to enable the DRI to be operational by 2020.

Progress in establishing the DRI

The Momentum Awards were a rapid call to action to boost the UK dementias research base, in readiness for the DRI. Successful awards, totalling £3.9m across five universities, were publicly announced in October 2016

Following a competitive international search led by the MRC in late 2016, the DRI’s Director has been named as Professor Bart De Strooper, and the central hub was announced as UCL. The selection process for centres to join the hub is underway and will be announced in Spring 2017.

Image copyright Mark Bastin and Dave Liewald.