Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
29 Aug 2018
Dementias Platform UK is a world-leading digital treasure trove, holding health data from millions of people, to help understand and treat dementia. Their one-stop shop gives researchers access to health data for dementia research and recognises contributions from researchers across the pay grade. Director Professor John Gallacher explains why it’s good for science and scientists.
Professor John Gallacher, Director of the Dementias Platform UK
In the UK, we’re fortunate to have a growing, rich resource of data from people that take part in studies which follow their health and lifestyle choices over time, known as cohort studies.
But there isn’t a single standardised way of storing and analysing this information. Without the right tools to search, interrogate and analyse this information, the data can seem impenetrable.
At Dementias Platform UK (DPUK) we have a solution – a place for researchers to access all the data they need to answer some of the toughest questions about dementia. We want the best minds to access the best data, regardless of their location. [...]
Continue reading: How secure data sharing can help us treat dementia
13 Sep 2017
The MRC has joined forces with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to create this picture of the dementia research ‘landscape’ in the UK, made up of people working together for a better future for people with dementia. Catherine Moody, MRC Programme Manager for Dementias initiatives, explains what we can see.
The dementias research landscape in the UK can look pretty complicated to those not directly involved in dementias research. It can even look bewildering to those who are!
But as our new picture shows, the jigsaw pieces do fit together. And without any one of the pieces, the picture isn’t complete. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: Dementia research in the UK
24 Aug 2016
Jennifer Lawson is the Trials Manager for the recently launched Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study looking to do the most in-depth research ever conducted to find out how Alzheimer’s disease develops. She is part of Professor Simon Lovestone’s Translational Neuroscience and Dementia Research group at the University of Oxford.
Career in brief
- Psychology BSc
- Worked at the Oxford Mental Health Trust as a Research Coordinator
- Part time Cognitive Neuroscience MSc whilst working full time at the Trust
- Managed the feasibility study that has led to this Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study
My career path has been slightly unusual. Like many of my peers studying psychology, I planned to become a clinical psychologist. So I went to gain experience working in Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, assisting with clinical trials and other research studies. [...]
Continue reading: Working life: Trials Manager Jen Lawson
3 May 2016
Charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK will be instrumental in involving people living with dementia in the work of the new £250m MRC-led UK Dementia Research Institute. Here Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Keith Oliver shares his hopes for how the new institute will make life better for people with dementia, now and tomorrow.
Photo copyright: Alzheimer’s Society
My world changed in 2010 when I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 55. My early symptoms were falling over, an element of reduced concentration and being unable to follow things as well as I did previously.
I went to the GP thinking I’d got an ear infection and was sent for an MRI scan. When I had an appointment with a neurologist to discuss the scan he said, totally out of the blue, that it looked like the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. After attending a memory clinic for around four months of quite intensive testing and assessments I received a diagnosis. [...]
Continue reading: Dementia: care today, cure tomorrow
14 Apr 2016
Today, the UK Biobank has launched the largest body scanning project in the world. Funded by the MRC, Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation, the biobank will scan 100,000 people to provide images of their brains, hearts, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat. Head of the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London Professor Paul Matthews is one of the academic experts who have been supporting UK Biobank to create this resource and he tells us how it could prove invaluable to all areas of medicine.
Building the bank
Over 10 years, the UK Biobank has recruited and gathered a wealth of high quality information from 500,000 people across the country. These people have donated blood, urine and saliva samples, provided detailed health, lifestyle and environment information and agreed to allow the biobank to follow their GP and hospital records throughout life.
Now we will be adding sophisticated imaging to enrich our understanding of the origins and progression of the major diseases of later life. [...]
Continue reading: UK Biobank: looking at the whole person
14 Dec 2015
Dr Laura Palmer is the manager of the South West Dementia Brain Bank at the University of Bristol, which is part of the MRC-led UK Brain Banks Network. Here she tells us about her working life, the pressure of a part-time PhD, and why people are always fascinated by her job.
Career in brief
- Undergraduate degree in pathology and microbiology
- Eleven years at the South West Dementia Brain Bank, starting as the bank technician and becoming brain bank manager
- Part-time PhD over eight years while working at the bank
As soon as I saw a job at the bank advertised I knew it was perfect for me. It brought together my degree knowledge with my interest in dementia stemming from my grandma’s vascular dementia. I didn’t have all of the necessary experience but I was persistent and keen to learn. At the time of my interview I was working nights in a supermarket!
Things have changed dramatically in the brain bank while I’ve been here. We’ve really grown and developed – we used to accept about 12 donations a year, now it’s more like 40. Public awareness of brain donation has increased really positively.
I called my PhD the ‘never-ending thesis’. It took eight years when I’d hoped to complete it in six. I began it part-time within about a year of starting to work here, funded by a wonderful local charity called BRACE which supports a lot of the bank’s work. Balancing my PhD with my job and trying to have a life was really difficult. It’s fantastic to be able to focus solely on my job now. [...]
Continue reading: Working life: Brain bank manager Dr Laura Palmer
5 Nov 2015
Susan Jonas helped to donate her aunt’s brain to medical research in 2013, an experience that inspired her to sign up to donate her own brain after her death. Here she explains the process around donating her aunt’s brain, and why she believes contributing to brain research in this way is so important.
I hadn’t thought much about brain donation until I saw in my aunt’s will that she wanted to donate her body to medical research. I had seen her will because I had enduring power of attorney over her affairs – otherwise I wouldn’t recommend stating such a wish in a will because by the time wills are usually read it would be too late to act.
My aunt was a lovely lady who moved to live near me in her 80s. She went into residential care after her behaviour began to grow a little odd and it became obvious that she couldn’t live on her own.
I knew she wasn’t going to live forever, so began to look into how to make sure her wishes could be met. She was a person who liked helping others in her lifetime and it seemed fitting that she would continue to help people in her death. [...]
Continue reading: Why I’m going to donate my brain to research
10 Sep 2015
Research part-funded by the MRC and published in Nature indicates that the Alzheimer’s disease-associated protein amyloid could have been passed to people treated with human-derived growth hormone in the 1960s and 70s. In this blog post originally published on the Alzheimer’s Research UK blog, Dr Laura Phipps explains the research and what it might mean.
In the news today, we’re hearing about a UK research study that has suggested the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, could have been passed between people in historic treatments with human-derived growth hormone in the 60s and 70s. This is one of the first suggestions that amyloid could pass between humans in a similar way to the prion protein responsible for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). In this blog, we’ll get to grips with the findings and what they might mean.
What did the study show?
Researchers based at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at Queen Square in London, University College London and the MRC Prion and Clinical Trials Units have been studying people who received human-derived growth hormone taken from deceased people between 1958 and 1985.
Around 1,800 people in the UK received this hormone, often used to treat children with stunted growth. However, around 4% of people in the UK who’d received the injections went onto develop CJD. This was still only 65 people, but more than you’d expect considering only around 1 in every million people in the population develop CJD each year. Researchers at the time concluded that some of the donations had been contaminated with the prion protein responsible for causing the fatal neurodegenerative disease. In response, the use of human-derived growth hormone was stopped and replaced with a synthetic form in 1985. [...]
Continue reading: In the news: Could Alzheimer’s proteins be passed between people?
14 Aug 2015
New figures from the National Institute of Health and Development released today shine a light on dementia research and the growing number of everyday people committing their time and biological information to help tackle the disease. MRC Director of Science Programmes Dr Rob Buckle looks at why cohort studies are so important in getting underneath the skin of the disease.
The number of people taking in part in dementia research is up by at least 60% in the past year, according to figures released today by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
Champagne corks will be popping in labs across the country. There’s so much about dementia that we still don’t understand: who is at risk of developing dementia and why the progression of the disease varies from person to person; the anatomy of the disease itself; how we can develop new medicines to treat its progression and improve symptoms; and how we can make accurate diagnosis easier. [...]
Continue reading: People power: the volunteers behind dementia research
23 Oct 2014
Today Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the recipients of our Clinical Research Capabilities and Technologies Initiative, with 23 projects receiving a total of just over £170m. But what exactly are these ‘capabilities’, what do we hope to achieve, and where did all that money come from? Katherine Nightingale takes a closer look.
What do we mean by clinical research capabilities?
It’s about new technologies for clinical research. We’re all familiar with the idea of clinical research being about clinical trials to assess drugs, devices and diagnostics in people. Clinical research is often seen as the end of the ‘pipeline’ from making discoveries in the laboratory to helping patients, but that’s not the whole story.
We want to make clinical research in the UK also about studying disease at the molecular, cellular, organ and whole-body level ― and to do that researchers need new tools. This includes better body-imaging equipment, new technology for monitoring physiology, and ways of analysing the intricacies of disease in cells and tissues. Doing this needs big pieces of kit, as well as resources for building on the equipment in the future and using it in new ways.
Discoveries made in this way might then be fed back ‘into the lab’ or go on to influence further clinical research. The aim is that by funding these technologies, we’ll build on existing infrastructure, and speed up innovation by allowing researchers to explore new areas. [...]
Continue reading: Q&A: The ins and outs of the Clinical Research Capabilities and Technologies Initiative