The collaboration will study data from 2 million volunteers aged 50 and over who belong to existing population studies – including UK Biobank and the Million Women Study. UK Biobank is part-funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC).
The partnership aims to enable earlier detection, improved treatment and, ultimately, prevention of the disease, by looking not just at what is going wrong in the brain, but at the brain in the context of the whole body.
With the UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP), the MRC is bringing together industry expertise and investigator teams from eight UK universities and teaming them with what will be the world’s largest group of participants in dementias research.
The Platform’s combination of skills and resources, and its focus on looking at the whole body in order to understand neurodegenerative disease, aims to unearth completely new approaches for intervention, including new drug treatments.
The Platform will investigate the causes of dementia across a range of different neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.
Studying the data will give researchers a better understanding of who is at risk of getting dementia, possible triggers that lead to disease, and what might speed up or slow down its progression.
The resource will also allow scientists to identify better biological and cognitive measures (biomarkers) of the key changes associated with dementia. This will enable them to develop new and more accurate clinical trials and find ways to limit and improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected.
Dr John Gallacher, from Cardiff University and director of the UKDP, said: “We now know that neurodegeneration can be linked to changes taking place in parts of the body seemingly unrelated to the brain and many years before dementia is diagnosed. For example, inflammation or infection in a completely different organ may be related to the development of dementia or to accelerating the onset in people with the disease. So it’s imperative that we look at the different stages of disease development: people who are yet to develop dementia; those who are known to be at risk of developing it, and those who are already in the early stages of the disease.
“By looking at the links between development of the disease and other factors – such as diet or illness – we hope to unearth targets for new drugs or new uses for existing drugs.”
The project has attracted industry partners from both within the UK and abroad: Araclon; MedImmune, the global biologics research & development arm of AstraZeneca; GSK; IXICO; Janssen Research & Development in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation; and SomaLogic. The academic partners are: Cardiff University (academic lead), University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University of Oxford, Swansea University and University College London.
Science Minister David Willetts said: “This new £16 million UK Dementia Platform will create the world’s largest ever study group for research into dementia, ensuring that data is freely available to support the work of international scientists in this very important area.
“The collaborative approach demonstrated by the Medical Research Council and its business partners through this platform is critical in helping us to achieve our target of doubling dementia research funding and making the UK the best place in the world to do life sciences.”