Over 180 researchers, clinicians and students gathered last month (23 September) for the official opening of the UK DRI centre at the University of Cambridge. Led by eminent professor, Giovanna Mallucci, the centre’s focus will be on deciphering why neurons degenerate in dementia and translating that to therapeutics targeting the earliest stages of disease. Attendees at the launch enjoyed talks from the seven Group Leaders at the UK DRI at Cambridge, close collaborator Prof Clemens Kaminski and a guest keynote lecture from Prof Bradley Hyman.
Target & translate
With this official event marking a milestone, Prof Mallucci’s opening words reflected on how the establishment of the centre in Cambridge had already opened doors with researchers across the university, the wider UK DRI institute and internationally – even attracting over £15M external funding in these early stages. With the enormous challenge of dementia in the UK, Giovanna identified that a change in approach was needed with new funding driving new understanding and crucially, new treatments. This will be facilitated by the recent establishment of the Gnodde Goldman Sachs Translational Neuroscience Unit at Cambridge, to accelerate studies into humans.
If we look across the spectrum of diseases that cause dementia, we find unique signatures that mark each one out and provide foundations for the varying phenotypes and symptoms experienced in the disorders. However, there are several features shared across these devastating conditions and, as Giovanna explained, building understanding of these commonalities will be the focus of UK DRI at Cambridge. Specifically, the team of Group Leaders have been assembled to uncover mechanisms behind the progressive loss of synapses and accumulation of misfolded proteins – key characteristics of most neurodegenerative disease - with the hope that targeting novel pathways here, and early in pathogenesis, may slow or halt associated diseases.
The ambitious vision of UK DRI has attracted leading research groups to join the institute, and bringing fresh thinking and ideas will be critical in the search for effective therapeutics for dementia. Joining Giovanna, world-leading researchers Sir David Klenerman and David Rubinsztein will provide mentorship for bright new talent Edward Avezov, Emmanouil Metzakopian, Gabriel Balmus and Will McEwan.
The introductory speech ended on a poignant note with Giovanna dedicating the day to close friend Sir Chris Dobson, who sadly passed away on the 8 September. Chris held the John Humphrey Plummer Professorship of Chemical and Structural Biology in the Department of Chemistry and was a pioneer in protein misfolding, co-founding the Department’s Centre for Misfolding Diseases in 2013.