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UK Dementia Research Institute: Selecting a world-leading hub

The selection of the hub site is a key step in the DRI’s establishment, to ensure the Institute can bring benefits to people living with dementia as soon as possible. The location of the DRI hub was selected in open competition, in a process running parallel to the appointment of the DRI Director, Professor Bart De Strooper.

Following the review of expressions of interest for the DRI hub from six universities in June 2016, five bids were selected by a Hub Advisory Panel for further assessment. Each applicant provided a prospectus detailing their vision, strengths, rising star scientists, proposed facilities and strategic fit. With support from the DRI Project Team, the DRI Director undertook an assessment of the five universities.

Visits

An MRC team visited all five hub applicant universities during August 2016 to undertake due diligence on their estates proposals, in order to gain a better understanding of the potential hub location, clarify details relating to specification and planning submissions/approvals, and undertake a physical inspection of facilities.

Following this, the Director – then Director-Elect – undertook one day site visits during October 2016. The DRI is grateful to each university for hosting the visits, and assembling senior staff and scientists to provide a view of: the relevant scientific strengths of the university; the level of support to be provided by the university; the university’s research strategy and its impact on dementia research; the university's estates plans; and the university's academic/clinical structure.

Overall the visits showed that the DRI mission is welcomed, and that the Institute is considered a highly important addition to the scientific landscape in the UK and a timely investment in an area that has been neglected for too long.

Criteria

The decision on the location of the hub was based on four central criteria:

  • Science: quality of dementia research  at the institution
  • Scientific environment: neurosciences and other basic sciences, translational and clinical research capability as well as infrastructures and bioresources important for the hub
  • Available space and the proposals for the new building(s) to potentially house the hub in the future
  • Additional investments planned by the university to strengthen the DRI

Decision: University College London

The Director found the hub selection challenging as the quality of applicants was exceptionally strong. Considering the two scientific criteria, UCL scored most highly, being top ranked for its leading capability in dementia research and in basic neuroscience, not only in the UK but also worldwide.

The first task of the DRI will be to fill the gaps in our basic understanding of dementia at the molecular mechanistic level. As a starting point the hub will therefore need strong ties with excellent basic neuroscience, making it possible to integrate the cutting edge technologies of modern cell and molecular neuroscience into the dementia research of the institute. This requirement was a key consideration during the evaluation of the different proposed solutions for the DRI building. UCL also provides a facility that is close to both the hospital and clinical research facilities and to the wealth of excellent basic discovery and neuroscience in its environment. Furthermore, UCL provided strong future plans for a truly iconic DRI building.

Next steps

Universities that submitted an expression of interest to become a centre, and the previous candidate hub universities, will be invited to submit bids for DRI centres towards the end of 2016. Plans to establish the DRI hub at UCL will develop in early 2017, with a view to its initial science getting underway by the latter half of 2017.