Centre selection marks huge leap in UK DRI establishment

Dri Centres

Six of the UK’s leading research universities have been awarded centre status in the landmark UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), laying the foundation for an eventual research community of more than 400 researchers dedicated to addressing the challenge of defeating dementia.

This initial UK DRI funding worth £55 million, which will be supplemented by a further £20 million from the institutions hosting the centres, will get the institute up and running and kick-start research that will provide answers to some of the most pressing questions in the field of neurodegenerative disease.

The UK DRI centres awards come as 27 foundation research programmes have been announced as the institute sets to establish and develop over the coming months.

Centres of excellence

Bringing together world-leading expertise across the spectrum of dementia research and maximising the benefit of cutting-edge facilities and skills, the newly announced centres have been named as the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and King’s College London. Associate Directors of the UK DRI have been named respectively as Professors Giovanna Mallucci, Julie Williams, Giles Hardingham, Paul Matthews and Chris Shaw. The centres join University College London (UCL) which was confirmed in December 2016 as the institute’s hub of research activity and operational headquarters, alongside the announcement of UK DRI Director, Professor Bart De Strooper.

The scientific strengths and expertise across the six UK DRI centres reflect the wide-ranging and ambitious research the institute will deliver to better understand the mechanisms that underpin neurodegenerative diseases.

The shared vision between the centres will be at the heart of the UK DRI’s success and will lead us to truly understand dementias and how they progress. Professor Bart De Strooper, UK DRI Director

Gathering pace

Using state-of-the-art research and imaging facilities across the institute, the foundation research programmes will broaden out the traditional view of neurodegenerative disease as a disorder of misfolded proteins, to consider the proteins in the complex environment of the brain and take into account interactions with wider physiological processes in the human body that may influence the risk of developing dementia and its rate of progression.

The initial research at the UK DRI will investigate new molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for neurodegenerative brain diseases, aiming to reinvigorate the pipeline of dementia drugs in development.

UK DRI researchers will explore ways to manipulate the brain’s natural defence mechanisms such as the cold shock response, autophagy and innate immunity to identify novel drug candidates that can be put to the test. They will also turn their attention to the role of metabolism, sleep and bacteria in the gut, all which are increasingly implicated in determining the likelihood of developing dementia. 

An equally important programme of research looking at the best ways to care for people with dementias will be integrated into the institute’s research strategy next year to compliment the strong biomedical focus.

Professor Bart De Strooper, UK DRI Director, said: “The shared vision between the centres will be at the heart of the UK 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 UK DRI as a whole, and the ability to grow and collaborate as the institute gathers pace.”

A fresh approach

Dr Rob Buckle, Chief Science Officer at the MRC, said: “The UK DRI is bringing together the most promising dementia science in the UK and the announcement of the centres and their foundation programmes is a huge step in its ambition to become an internationally-recognised national institute. The six centres that will form the core of the institute were recognised for their outstanding knowledge and capabilities across the dementias, but most importantly their commitment to work with colleagues old and new, and far and wide, to gain fresh new insights into the disease.”

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer and is impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The institute provides a dynamic, collaborative and fresh approach which will transform dementia research and deliver life changing discoveries for people affected by dementia. It’s incredibly exciting to see its first pioneering research programmes take shape across the six centres.”

Dr Matthew Norton, Director of Policy and Strategy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The UK DRI is a unique and pioneering initiative with the level of ambition needed to take on our greatest medical challenge. The broad research programme at the UK DRI will have a transformative effect on dementia research right across the country, attracting in new talent, expertise and ideas to drive progress towards new ways to help people living with the condition.”

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.”  

Founding funders

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