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Sir Malcolm Walker reflects on the unique Dementia Research Retail Coalition as it celebrates 2nd Anniversary

10 October 2017

“I asked what it was that researchers needed to make the breakthroughs we’ve seen in other diseases such as cancer or heart disease. He said the biggest barrier to progress was investment – and investment in the right areas.”

Sir Malcolm Walker, Founder and Chairman of Iceland Foods, is the driving force behind the dementia research retail coalition – a group of nine leading UK retailers who have put aside the rivalries of the high street to raise significant funding for UCL’s world-leading dementia research by donating the 5p carrier bag levy.

Brain created from carrier bags of 9 UK retailrs

UCL is one of the world’s biggest, most productive and highest impact neuroscience hubs, with over 500 principal investigators leading a research community of more than 2,000 neuroscientists. The research is highly interdisciplinary, and spans the full spectrum from basic discovery science to the evaluation of health and social care. It is widely collaborative and, as well as working with the retail partners, has also formed close alliances with the leading national charities Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society.

That international excellence was recognised in December 2016 when the Medical Research Council announced that UCL will be the research hub and operational headquarters of the UK Dementia Research Institute – the joining together of the UK’s best resources in a massive push to tackle this global challenges. As the research hub and operational headquarters, UCL will lead a grand coalition of universities, charities and industry partners that has the potential to be truly transformational.

Malcolm Walker and Nick Fox

For UCL’s Nick Fox, Professor of Clinical Neurology and close collaborator of Sir Malcolm, it can’t come soon enough.

“We know that for previously ‘incurable’ diseases like HIV or certain cancers, we now have effective treatments” he says.

“Life expectancies that were really short – death sentences – are now nearly normal in some cases. The only way that progress was made was through focussed and sustained long-term investment.”

“Dementia is the most pressing challenge globally. It is the challenge of our age that will overwhelm health and social services – unless we do something about it.”

The unique dementia research retail coalition illustrates the power of universities and industry coming together to tackle big issues, adds Sir Malcolm.

“At Iceland, we have been fundraising for dementia research for several years, and I am delighted we have been able to do so much to help improve understanding of the condition as well as raising substantial sums of money to help find a cure,” he says.

“This is a cause immensely close to my own heart, and those of very many of my customers and colleagues – because there is hardly a family in the country that has not been affected by dementia. By partnering with UCL, I know we are fighting for a future in which no life is blighted by this devastating disease.”

 For more information about dementia research at UCL visit www.ucl.ac.uk/dementia