Cardiff University opens £20m dementia research centre

A new £20m research centre aimed at finding effective treatments for dementia has officially opened at Cardiff University.

Cardiff University says more than seventy scientists from around the world have been recruited to the centre with the aim of expanding the group to hundred in the near future.

The Cardiff centre is one of six that together make up the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) which has been established across the UK with a total £290m investment.

UK DRI at Cardiff will build upon research strengths in dementia genetics, immunology, computational analytics, cellular and whole system modelling, and neuroimaging to identify disease mechanisms and therapies for a range of dementias including Alzheimer’s disease.

In recent years, more than forty genes which contribute to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease have been discovered and the team at Cardiff University will use that knowledge to work on new theories and discoveries.

Focusing on clear evidence that indicates answers can be found within the brain’s immune system, they will work on several separate but aligned research programmes that will model Alzheimer’s disease in various ways, including through stem cells which can be transformed into neurons, immune and other cells. They will even be able to combine these cells to create mini brains or organoids (3D cell cultures that incorporate some of the key features of an organ).

Professor Julie Williams, Director of the UK DRI at Cardiff University, said “With a new case of dementia diagnosed somewhere in the world every four seconds we aim to bring about a step change in the way we study this set of diseases. Here at the UK DRI at Cardiff University we are combining novel techniques to unveil the mechanisms of dementia so that we can transform the outlook for people living with dementia today and in the future…I am delighted by the calibre of the scientists we have been able to recruit from Wales and around the world.”

The creation of the UK DRI at Cardiff is being seen as an accolade for Wales and indicates the growing strength of ground breaking scientific research in the country. It is funded by the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society, with the Welsh Government giving significant support to the Cardiff centre.

Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said “This represents a substantial, UK-wide investment into dementia research in Wales. The Welsh Government’s investment in this world class facility demonstrates our commitment to tackling this devastating disease and forms part of our plan to make Wales a dementia friendly nation, as set out in our Dementia Action Plan.”

Welsh Government funding has enabled the Cardiff team to install a £1m robotic Opera Phenix microscope which is able to scan and analyse thousands of individual cells at high speed. This state of the art microscope was made in Wales and is an example of the latest technology being utilised by the team.

Although the principal research will focus on Alzheimer’s disease there will also be relevant findings for Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Professor Bart De Strooper, UK DRI Director, said “The shared vision between our UK DRI centres is at the heart of the institute’s success, and creativity at the borders will lead us to truly understand dementia and how to tackle it. We selected our six centres based on innovative, excellent science; evidence of strong leadership; the alignment of goals with the UK DRI as a whole; and the ability to grow and collaborate as the institute gathers pace…Cardiff’s focus on innate immunity will bring a broader understanding of the disruptive effect of these mechanisms in dementia. Professor Williams is internationally recognised for her large-scale genetic projects, and alongside the translational potential of her team’s programmes, there is exciting room for growth at this centre.”

Sue Phelps, Country Director of Alzheimer’s Society Cymru, a founding funder of the UK Dementia Research Institute, said “This unique collaboration bringing together the brains of six universities across the UK, including the great team of world-leading researchers at Cardiff University who are working tirelessly to beat dementia, offers people affected by dementia hope for a better future and for a world without dementia. Research will beat dementia.”

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