UCL News


UCL reaps one-third of new Alzheimer's Society research grants

17 September 2010


Dr Selina Wray at work alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=861" target="_self">Alzheimer's Society research grants
  • UCL Institute of Neurology
  • UCL Neuroscience
  • Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research
  • UCL has received a total of nearly £500,000 funding for three dementia research projects from the Alzheimer's Society and Bupa, representing one-third of all projects funded in this round.

    • Dr Elizabeth Sampson (UCL Mental Health Sciences) has been awarded a grant to carry out research into how being in hospital can affect people with dementia, specifically looking at how staff recognise pain.

    If left untreated, pain severely decreases people's quality of life and can exacerbate other symptoms of their dementia. Alzheimer's Society research conducted last year found that people with dementia occupy up to a quarter of hospital beds and are staying far longer in hospital than people without the condition. Dr Sampson's research will be important in understanding how hospital treatment can be improved for people with dementia and how better staff training can be developed.

    • Professor Martin Rossor, Professor John Hardy, Dr Selina Wray and Dr Patrick Lewis (UCL Institute of Neurology) have been awarded a grant to set up a new cell library and biobank for inherited dementia patient cells.

    Dr Wray said: "Much of our understanding of the biology of dementia has been discovered through studying people with rare causes of dementia caused by genetic
    traits, or mutations. This research cannot be carried out on living people, and there are many pitfalls associated with replicating these genetic traits in cells in the laboratory. A new technique allows scientists to take a skin cell and transform it into a nerve cell. The resulting cells will have the exact genetic makeup as the person they originally came from. The biobank will enable more and better research into the underlying causes of dementia, as well as the development of new treatments."

    • Dr Kaylene Young (Wolfson Institute of Biomedical Research) will be working at UCL with Professor David Attwell and Professor William Richardson, and at The Menzies Research Institute, Hobart to investigate a group of cells (Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cells) which could protect other cells from being damaged, and is therefore a potential treatment target for Alzheimer's.

    Dr Young said: "One area that is largely overlooked in current approaches to treatment is that nerves are not the only cells damaged by plaques and tangles. They also damage the insulating cells of the brain, which are very important for supporting the function of nerve cells. To move information rapidly around the brain, nerves must be insulated like electrical cables, and this insulation also protects and supports the nerve cell.

    "We know from diseases like multiple sclerosis that losing insulation makes nerve cells extremely vulnerable to damage and death. This may also be true for Alzheimer's Disease. Nany new insulating cells are added to the brain throughout life. It turns out that they are being produced by cells known as Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cells. It may be possible to hijack the natural ability of these cells to make new insulating cells, in order to repair the insulation damage that is seen in Alzheimer's Disease."

    To find out more about these research grants, follow the link at the top of this item.

    Image: Dr Selina Wray in the laboratory

    UCL context

    UCL Neuroscience brings together all UCL neuroscientists to tackle the most important questions about how the nervous system works. The researchers seek to make fundamental discoveries about brain function and behaviour; to treat and train the next generation of scientists and clinicians; and to transform our ability to diagnose neurological and psychiatric disease.

    Related news

    Carers need help before dementia diagnosis

    The global burden of mental health disorders