Research

Tissue disease & degeneration

Life expectancy is increasing and more people are living to ages at which they experience common chronic and degenerative diseases. Most people aged 60 – 64 have at least one medical condition requiring regular GP visits. One in three people is expected to develop dementia, which will have major consequences for patients, their families and society as a whole. Chronic inflammation is linked to many age-related diseases such as heart failure and arthritis.

Learning more about the fundamental mechanisms of chronic disease will help to identify new targets for therapies, open up opportunities to use existing drugs for different diseases, and develop tailored and more effective treatments.

Objective

To advance knowledge in the biology of ageing and degeneration of human tissue and to progress research tackling dementia; to understand the mechanisms of chronic inflammation and how these relate to disease.

Making an impact: Discovery of Alzheimer’s disease gene opens up new possibilities for dementia prevention

The most potent genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease identified in the past 20 years was discovered in 2012 by an international team including researchers funded by the MRC. The gene nearly triples the risk of a person developing Alzheimer's disease.

The gene was discovered using a new genetic sequencing technique called exome sequencing and could be used to identify people at high risk of Alzheimer's disease who would be suitable for prevention trials. TREM2 is known to be involved in the immune system which may identify new leads in understanding the causes and progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Now

  • We have established imaging capacity to support research into degenerative diseases of ageing, including Imanova Ltd, a partnership with London universities which specialises in Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging, a type of medical imaging which produces detailed 3D images of how well a body system is functioning.
  • We fund centres of excellence tackling inflammation, the allergic basis of asthma, and the ageing of muscles of tissues, in partnership with medical research charities.
  • We support a range of tissue resources, including the UK Brain Banks Network which provides access to post-mortem brain tissue for research into neurodegenerative and other brain diseases.
  • We have established effective international networks that help us to address bottlenecks in neurodegenerative disease research.

Future

  • Using genetics and high-throughput ‘omics’ technologies we aim to improve knowledge of the molecular pathways that cause degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, and dementia.
  • We seek to establish new ways of detecting degenerative diseases before symptoms develop and to better understand how susceptibility to, and progression of, disease varies between people based on molecular pathways, so that interventions can have greater impact.
  • We aim to explore the links between how cells age, chronic inflammation and the damage this causes to tissue.
  • We aim to understand why some neural networks are more sensitive to degeneration than others and what age-related changes in such networks cause these diseases to happen only in later life.
  • We seek to provide better models of disease for pre-clinical research and to establish experimental medicine platforms so that new therapies can be progressed to patients.
  • We aim to exploit the MRC’s strength in population-health research to promote discovery research and strategies for disease prevention. Important goals are to understand the brain body axis and how co-morbidities - having other diseases at the same time - affect the severity of disease.

How

  • We will support discovery science in cells and tissues, and target funding towards understanding the causes and fundamental mechanisms of diseases linked to chronic inflammation and degeneration.
  • We will increase capacity in neurodegeneration research by encouraging links with biomedical researchers from other fields, and fostering international collaborations to supplement UK strengths.
  • We will progress national platforms, which can provide imaging, high-throughput 'omics' and health informatics data, and biological samples, linked to population cohorts to undertake ‘deep phenotyping’. A major such investment will be the establishment of a UK platform for dementias research.
  • We will build relationships with NIHR and health departments, medical research charities, and the biopharmaceutical industry to progress our shared agenda in mechanistic and translational research.
  • We will promote the use of stem cell-based approaches and tissue-equivalent assays to model diseases and test drugs.
  • We will exploit our recent £20m investment in next generation optical microscopy to analyse cell function in tissues at risk of scarring or degeneration.