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Understanding Dementia 2019

A global effort against dementia is needed

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Martin Barraud

Dr Carol Routledge

Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK

Science, by its very nature, is a collaborative effort. Sharing results and experimental methods is at the core of the scientific approach. This exchange of information underpins the incredible progress science has made.

But scientific collaboration goes far beyond this. When dementia research teams work together, the combination of different skills and perspectives means that they achieve much more than they could working separately.

The most transformative collaborations are often at a global scale. By combining resources, data and research opportunities from multiple nations, we can radically accelerate progress towards life-changing breakthroughs.

Research crossing borders

International collaboration changes what is possible, and global initiatives have already made vital contributions to dementia research.

The International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project (IGAP) spans several nations and involves universities across Europe and the US. The initiative has brought together genetic data from tens of thousands of people with Alzheimer’s disease. IGAP has helped us to identify around 30 genes linked to Alzheimer’s risk.

These crucial discoveries have thrown open the doors to new avenues of research, that are paving the way to innovative approaches for tackling the disease. Some of these recent discoveries have already led to new drugs in clinical trials today.

Power in numbers as families affected by Alzheimer’s support research

It’s not just researchers coming together that is driving progress; people affected by dementia are also joining forces to power breakthroughs.

Every July, thousands of the world’s leading dementia researchers come together to share their latest discoveries. And each year, a group of around two hundred people whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s disease join them on their own personal mission against the condition. This group comes together from different nations, generations, cultures, and backgrounds, but there is something very important uniting them.

This group of families could be key to developing the first life-changing Alzheimer’s treatment.

In 2016, a clinical trial of a potential Alzheimer’s drug was stopped when it didn’t show benefits for people with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers think this was because the drug was tested too late in the disease, when too much damage had already occurred in the brain.

A rare inherited form of Alzheimer’s

But these families are providing an important lifeline for this research. They are part of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN), a study involving people from families around the world with a rare genetic mutation that causes Alzheimer’s.

Researchers know at what point people with these genetic mutations will develop symptoms, so can test drugs much earlier before the disease really takes hold.

With the help of these participants, doctors are now investigating whether solanezumab and two similar drugs, could prevent or slow Alzheimer’s when given to people before symptoms set in.

We will see results from this study early next year. If the trials are successful in people with inherited Alzheimer’s, the drugs could, one day, benefit everyone with the disease.

Collaboration is key

No single country could carry out studies like DIAN and IGAP by itself. Dementia affects people in every corner of the world and costs the global economy US$1 trillion a year. It’s a global challenge that has to be met with concerted global action.

Since Alzheimer’s Research UK started funding research, we’ve supported over 230 collaborations across 28 countries. By working together, and sharing the costs and opportunities of global research, we are closing in on a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

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