The Medical Research Council (MRC) has launched the U.K. Dementias Research Platform (UKDP), a $27.2 million public-private partnership set up to speed up research into dementias. The collaboration aims to enable earlier detection, improved treatment and, ultimately, prevention of the disease by looking not just at what is going wrong in the brain, but at the brain in the context of the whole body.
With the UKDP, the MRC is bringing together industry experience and investigator teams from eight U.K. universities and teaming them with what will be the world’s largest group of participants in dementias research (more than two million people). The Platform’s combination of skills and resources, and its focus on looking at the whole body in order to understand neurodegenerative disease, aims to unearth completely new approaches for intervention, including new drug treatments.
The platform will investigate the causes of dementia across a range of different neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.
Key to this “whole body” approach will be the study of data from two million volunteers aged 50 and over who have taken part in existing population studies such as U.K. Biobank and the Million Women Study. Participants in these studies have provided a wealth of medical and lifestyle data, which UKDP researchers will link to emerging biological data from genetic studies, brain imaging and cognitive testing. Studying the data will give researchers a better understanding of who is at risk of getting dementia, possible triggers that lead to disease and what might speed up or slow down its progression.
The resource also will allow scientists to identify better biological and cognitive measures (biomarkers) of the key changes associated with dementia. This will enable them to develop new and more accurate clinical trials and find ways to limit and improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected.
John Gallacher, from Cardiff University and director of the UKDP, said, “We now know that neurodegeneration can be linked to changes taking place in parts of the body seemingly unrelated to the brain and many years before dementia is diagnosed. For example, inflammation or infection in a completely different organ may be related to the development of dementia or to accelerating the onset in people with the disease. So it’s imperative that we look at the different stages of disease development: people who are yet to develop dementia; those who are known to be at risk of developing it; and those who already are in the early stages of the disease.
The project has attracted industry partners from both within the U.K. and abroad, including Araclon; MedImmune, the global biologics R&D arm of AstraZeneca; GSK; IXICO; Janssen R&D in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation; and SomaLogic. The academic partners are Cardiff University (academic lead), University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle University,University of Oxford, Swansea University and University College London.