Launch of £13m dementia research centre at Cardiff University

Cardiff University will be playing a major role in the UK’s biggest dementia research initiative with the launch of a £13m dementia research centre (Cardiff University, 2017).

With the potential to be awarded a further £17m in research funding over the next five years, the UK DRI at Cardiff University is set to become the biggest investment Wales has ever received for scientific study into dementia.

As one of six UK centres, the new research centre in Wales will be a significant section of the newly launched UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), a £250m initiative funded by the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, to find new ways to diagnose, treat, prevent and care for people with dementia. The selection of the new centres marks a significant investment for the UK DRI, with total funding for the foundation programmes and resources awarded to the centres reaching £55m.

Professor Julie Williams, who is currently the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Welsh Government and Professor of Neuropsychological Genetics at Cardiff University, will lead the new centre. She will also become an Associate Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute.

She said “The UK DRI at Cardiff University will provide a step change in our ability to understand these complex diseases and produce new treatments for future generations…I am enormously excited to be part of the leadership team for the UK Dementia Research Institute and to head a group of excellent and passionately committed scientists.”

Professor Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, said “Dementia diagnosis rates in Wales are the worst in the UK, impacting on support for affected individuals and their families…Given this national context, and the global burden of dementia, Cardiff University has made research on dementias a strategic priority and a cornerstone of our joint Clinical Innovation Strategy with the NHS. With the launch of the UK DRI at Cardiff University, we will build on this solid foundation to find new ways to combat dementia.”

Up to sixty scientific researchers will be employed at the centre over the first five years and will focus on understanding the disease mechanisms and developing new therapies. A programme of research development is expected to lead to an increase in scientific staff as it expands after the first five year phase.

The centre will build on the success of the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics in Cardiff University and will utilise the discovery by scientists in Wales of over thirty genes contributing to either Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s diseases.

Professor Bart De Strooper, Director of the UK DRI, said “The shared vision between the centres will be at the heart of the DRI’s success, and this creativity at the borders will lead us to truly understand dementias and how they progress. We selected the centres based on innovative, excellent science, evidence of strong leadership, the alignment of goals with the DRI as a whole, and the ability to grow and collaborate as the institute gathers pace.

“Cardiff’s focus on innate immunity will allow a broader understanding of the disruptive effect of these mechanisms in dementias. 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.”

The UK DRI at Cardiff University will complement the work of the University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, the Systems Immunity Research Institute, the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), the Health and Care Research Wales Brain Repair and Intracranial Neurotherapeutics Unit and the Cardiff University Dementias Research Network. It will be based in Cardiff University’s Hadyn Ellis building, which will undergo refurbishment to create a new space for it.

UK Science Minister Jo Johnson said “Dementia affects millions of people around the world, but through greater understanding we can make significant steps forward to improve lives.

“Today’s announcement of the Institute’s centre locations demonstrates the UK’s existing wealth of knowledge and research expertise, and the leadership role we can take in developing new treatments to tackle this disease…This is exactly the type of project our Industrial Strategy will build on to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global science.”

The other centres will be based at University College London (DRI headquarters), The University of Cambridge, The University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and King’s College London.

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