Department of Neurodegenerative Disease

Head of Department: Professor J Collinge, BSc, MB, ChB, MD, FRCP, FRS

The Research Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, together with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Prion Unit and the Dementia Research Centre, is recognised as one of foremost international centres for the study of dementia and other neurodegenerative disease. The research portfolio encompasses prion diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, Huntington’s disease, motor neurone disease and frontotemporal dementia, and studies of the pathways of cellular senescence.

Highly multidisciplinary and interactive studies span structural and molecular biology, neurogenetics, cellular and transgenic mouse models and the full spectrum of clinical research including major cohort studies and therapeutic trials. The research philosophy is to combine basic and clinical translational research; many of the key contributions towards understanding the basic biology of these diseases have come from clinical and neuropathological observations, and efficient translation of basic laboratory research to the clinic is essential to provide benefits for patients at the earliest opportunity.

Major contributions include the world’s first blood test for vCJD (Lancet, 2011), a genetic resistance factor for prion disease (New England Journal of Medicine, 2009), characterisation of two distinct phases of prion propagation (Nature, 2011); blocking interaction between cellular prion protein and toxic Aβ oligomers by monoclonal antibodies (Nature Communications, 2011); discovery of a novel prion disease presenting with diarrhoea (New England Journal of Medicine, 2013); ground breaking cohort studies in HD (TRACK-HD; Lancet Neurology, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013); key international biomarker study in AD (New England Journal of Medicine, 2012).

Impact case studies (from the UCL Impact website)

Dementia Research Centre

The possibility of disease modification therapies in the degenerative dementias has accelerated the pace of research into improving early diagnosis and monitoring of disease progression.

The Dementia Research Centre (DRC) has a number of multi-disciplinary research projects with a tight clinical focus. Structural and functional brain imaging techniques are being used to identify the earliest features in familial Alzheimer’s disease and familial frontotemporal dementia cohorts. Image analysis techniques developed at the Centre have been adopted by a number of research groups worldwide to analyse multi-centre trials where rates of brain atrophy have been chosen as outcome measures. An active programme of neuropsychological research at a group level, as well as single case studies, has helped to characterise cognitive and behavioural profiles of some of these diseases as well as providing insights into the neurobiology of dementia and cognitive function more generally. 

The DRC has been involved in a number of important multicentre treatment trials, including ongoing studies of immunotherapy in Alzheimer’s disease. Studies in collaboration with the MRC Cyclotron Unit at the Hammersmith Hospital are producing exciting results on imaging amyloid burden in vivo. Strong and longstanding collaboration with other departments at the ION, particularly in the fields of pathology and genetics, have continued to prove very productive. The research programmes within the Centre are all very closely linked with our clinical practise and this includes work on improving care and support for patients and families affected by these devastating disorders. 

For more information see the Dementia Research Centre website

MRC Prion Unit

The MRC Prion Unit was established in 1998 to provide a national centre of excellence with all necessary facilities to pursue a major long-term research strategy in prion and related diseases.

The Units research programmes are highly multidisciplinary and focus both on areas of public health concern and a long-term approach to the understanding of prion disease. They include studies of molecular structure, genetics, biochemistry, immunology, cell and animal models, and clinical research - including treatment trials. Two major programmes to develop novel therapies are underway.

The Units research philosophy is to seamlessly combine basic (laboratory) and clinical (patient-based) research. Many of the key contributions towards understanding the biology of these diseases have come from clinical and neuropathological observations. Efficient translation of these basic studies to enable better early diagnosis, prevention, and effective treatments, is crucial. A UK-wide tertiary referral service for patients suspected to have, or at risk of developing, any form of prion disease - the National Prion Clinic (NPC) - is based at the adjacent National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and is closely integrated with the Unit allowing all patients who wish to participate in research to do so.

For more information see the MRC Prion Unit website

Page last modified on 18 dec 14 18:22