Why research holds the power to defeat dementia – Robin Brisbourne ARUK

Alzheimer’s Research UK is Europe’s leading
biomedical research charity looking for preventions, treatments and cure for
dementia. We’re based in Cambridge but we fund research right across the
country including lots of research here in Oxford. I’ll just briefly go over why
we’re here, and many of you will have personal experience of dementia, but
just to give you a sense of its national and international impact, there are
eight hundred and fifty thousand people in the UK living with dementia, and it
has a 26 billion pound impact on the economy every every year which is
enormous an enormous figure, more than the cost of heart disease and cancer
combined. Last year dementia emerged as the leading cause of death in
the UK. It had been very close to heart disease for many years and last year,
deaths attributed to dementia surpassed those of heart disease and it’s the only
one of the top 10 leading causes of death for which there is no treatment to prevent it, cure it , or to slow its progression. One in three people born this year will develop dementia if
we don’t find new ways to tackle the condition. Six times more is spent on cancer research than dementia research. Now we don’t begrudge cancer research. It’s extremely important that cancer research continues to get funding, but it just gives you an idea of how far behind dementia research is due to lack of funding. OK, so what is dementia so
dementia is a word we used to describe a set of symptoms. We tend to think of
memory loss, reasoning skills, communication skills, it can cause
people’s personality to change. They get worse over time and it effects the way
that people live their lives. This is distinct from what we see in
normal, healthy aging. As people get older, they might need to
write things down a little bit more, might find a few everyday tasks
take a little bit longer. But dementia is distinct from those sort of changes. You can see from this graphic memory and thinking skills on one side, and years along the bottom. In aging you might see a gradual decline,
but it doesn’t really go too far down But with dementia it’s much steeper, and the effects are much more pronounced. It’s not a normal part of Aging, but
when we ask people what causes dementia that’s the thing that we tend to tend to hear.
When we did ask people back in 2015, only 23% of people replied it was a result of brain disease or brain degeneration We’re running this survey again now, we’re hoping to see that more people recognise the true nature of dementia now than they did in 2015
but it’s quite a persistent misconception
that somehow dementia is a part of the aging process. Alot of what I do in
the communication team at Alzheimer’s Research UK is to try to challenge that
kind of misconception Dementia’s caused by diseases, and these are the diseases that cause it. Alzheimer’s Disease is responsible for about 2/3 of dementia cases. There are other forms as well vascular dementia is to do with
problems with blood supply to the brain. Mix dementia, so vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s sometimes go hand in hand. mixed dementia. Dementia with Lewy bodies which has some similarities with Parkinson’s
disease. Parkinson’s caused movement problems Dementia with Lewy bodies causes
memory problems and thinking problems Frontotemporal dementia, a form of dementia
that affects the front of the brain Particularly, causes communication difficulties, behaviour and personality changes Parkinson’s dementia, people who get Parkinson’s Disease and can go on to develop dementia. There are other rarer forms as well.
The symptoms of dementia vary between diseases. What really determines someone’s symptoms, is which area of the brain is affected by a disease Different parts of the brain control different functions. The back of the brain, for example, that’s where we process visual information. If people get a form of dementia that affects the back of the brain, they’ll have visual symptoms initially. I don’t know whether any of you remember the author Terry Pratchett? He had a form of dementia called “Posterior Cortical Atrophy” that affects the back of the brain. His initial symptoms were visual rather than more typical memory-led forms of dementia. This slide just encapsulates what we do at Alzheimer’s Research UK We crystalised our our vision and our mission last year. What we want to achieve is a world where people are free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia We want to do that by funding and delivering pioneering research. Collaborating to speed up global scientific progress. and confronting misconceptions
about dementia across society. We’ve got an ambitious mission to bring about the first life-changing dementia treatment by 2025. We have four goals, which are: to better
understand dementia, find new ways to reduce risk improve diagnosis, and of course
develop new treatments. A large part of what we do, is working to better
understand the diseases that cause dementia. What all these diseases have
in common is that they cause nerve cells in the brain to become damaged and to die. In Alzheimer’s Disease, 2 of the cheif culprits are these proteins. Amyloid palques that build up
outside nerve cells in the brain, and tau tanlges which build up within those nerve cells. As well as some processes that are involved in damage to the cells they eventually cause parts
the brain to physically shrink. You can see there a depiction of healthy brain on the left, and the shrunken part there represents someone with
advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. These changes in the brain, the build up all these proteins in addition to damage to nerve cells get underway long before symptoms start
to show We want to understand more about these processes, unravel the moelcular details of what drives damage to the brain. That research is the foundation of all of our other goals. To prevent, diagnose, to treat, we first need to understand these diseases more thouroughly. Diagnosis is also an important part of what we do. Currently, a diagnosis might be made by a
doctor through observations, clinical observations, discussions with relatives.
They’ll take a medical history, they might do a blood test, but this is really
to rule out other potential causes of memory and thinking problems. Vitamin defiencies and those type of things could give people dementia like symptoms. There might be a brain scan sometimes to support a diagnosis. There isn’t a conclusive biological testing we can give people to determine what’s causing their dementia. Moslty we rely on memory and thinking
tests. Doctors will assess different aspects of a person’s thikning and memory ability and then match those symptoms to those
that are typical for a particular form of dementia. The tests are more comprehensive than this, but this gives you an idea of the kinds of questions that might be asked. We are funding research to try and find better ways to diagnose people with different forms of dementia. We want to diagnose people early and more accurately. currently the only way to be a hundred percent sure of a disease the person’s
had and that’s caused dementia is by examining their brain tissue after they’ve died. There’s a strong overlap between symptoms of different diseases. Misdiagnosis happens, unfortunatly, too often A crucial region reason for wanting to
improve diagnosis is because some of the treatments that researchers
are working on we think will work much better at the very early stages.
Before symptoms start to show. We also want to develop new treatments. There are treatments for dementia at the moment Specifically for Alzheimer’s Disease, but they might be prescribed for other forms of dementia. These 4 medications, the first 3 are given to people in the mild to moderate stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. and the 4th one to people who are a bit further along. What these drugs do, is help the nerve cells to communicate with one another. They boost the levels of certain brain
chemicals that allow the nerve cells to send messages more effectively. But what they don’t do is halt those underlying disease processes. They don’t protect the nerve cells from damage.
They can help people with their symptoms maybe for a year or so, they don’t work for everybody, but they do provide many
people with important help. What we want to do now, is to try and improve on these and develop treatments that will
actually protect nerve cells in the brain. We’re investing a lot into different initiatives to try and bring about treatments more quickly. We’re partnering with pharmaceutical companies who have the really deep pockets that can fund sets of clinical trials. We’re working with them on an initiative called the Dementia Consortium to develop new biological targets for drugs that hopefully the pharmaceutical companies will then take on and push through to trials We have our Drug Discover Alliance a network of 3 dedicated
dementia drug discovery labs. There’s one in UCL, there’s one in Cambridge and there’s one here in Oxford. You’re going to hear from one of the
researchers working there a little later on Finally we want to reduce the risk of dementia.
Try and develop ways to limit the chances of someone delevoping one of
these diseases in the first place. There are some things that you can do,
some lifestyle changes that are associated with a lower risk of developing dementia. What you’ll notice is many of these are the same things your Dr might tell you to do to for preventing a heart attack. So what we say is what’s good for the heart,
tends to be also good for the head. We want to develop
concrete strategies, evidence-based methods to encourage people to adopt
those sort of lifestyle changes and to bring their risk ofdementia down. We fund research right across the country.
Mark talk to you about the Oxford Network Centre but we have 15 Network centers right around the UK. Another thing we’re doing is
trying to increase participation in dementia research. Much of the research our scientists do
wouldn’t be possible without volunteers who take part in studies. We support this research register called Join Dementia Research. Over 30,000 people have signed up.
Singing up allows researchers to get in touch with you and invite you to take part in studies,
maybe you match the criteria of their study They’ll invite you to take part. There’s no obligation to do so if you join the register. They’ll tell you about the details of the study and you can take part if you want to. Join Dementia Research have a stand in the
hall. If you want to, if you’re interested in taking part, come and see me at the break, or someone from Join Dementia Research. We also provide free health information.
So if you drop by our stand we’ve got lots of information booklets,
like different forms of dementia and other aspects of the condition.
We also have an information line so if you have questions about dementia or dementia research you can email them or give them a call. Again those details are at the stand You’ve probably seen a lot of stories about
dementia in the news I work in the communications team. Part of what we do is to try and make sure someone says something sensible about these stories when they come out.
Some of those headlines you see are either misleading or exagerated in some way. We work with journalists, we provide comments we hope they’ll run in their articles. We hope to place that research into the
context of what we already know. and to cirically evaluate the
claims that the journalists might make Ithink my favorite one is chocolate can halt dementia. It’s not true and unfortunately. None of the work we do would be possible without
and our supporters. We’re a fundraising charity. We don’t get any government funds to support research. If anyone is interested in fundraising,
there’s also opportunities to do that if you drop by our stand.

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