Swansea University teams up with the world’s largest group of participants in dementias research

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The Medical Research Council (MRC) has today (Thursday 19 June) launched the UK Dementias Research Platform (UKDP), a £16 million public-private partnership set up to speed up research into dementias.

With the UKDP, the MRC is bringing together industry expertise and investigator teams from eight UK universities, including Swansea University, and teaming them with what will be the world’s largest group of participants in dementias research (more than two million people). 

The collaboration 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.

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.

Key to this ‘whole body’ approach will be the study of data from two million volunteers aged 50 and over who have taken part in existing population studies such as UK Biobank and the Million Women Study. Participants in these studies have generously provided a wealth of medical and lifestyle data which UKDP researchers will link to emerging biological data from genetic studies, brain imaging and cognitive testing.  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.  

The project has attracted industry partners from both within the UK and abroad (Araclon, AstraZeneca-MedImmune, GSK, Ixico, Janssen Research and Development, SomaLogic). The academic partners are: the University of Cardiff (academic lead), University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University of Oxford, Swansea University and University College London.

Professor Keith Lloyd, Head of the Swansea University College of Medicine, said: " This collaboration exemplifies the type of interdisciplinary research being conducted in the College of Medicine especially in the field of health informatics where we are world leaders."

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.”

  • The UKDP was announced at the 2014 Global Dementia Legacy Event at the Guildhall, London, by Secretary of State for Health, the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt. 

  • The six UK and international companies (3 pharma, 3 SME) have signed a consortium agreement which will allow shared access to the research resources and the rich and unique data in the UKDP, and provide a basis for instigating joint studies. These companies have chosen to invest in the partnership in spite of many competing priorities and other opportunities in dementias research worldwide, eg. SomaLogic, which is based in Colorado, has decided to establish a research base in the UK as a result of the Platform.A number of other companies have held in depth discussions with MRC about involvement in the UKDP, and have retained an interest in joining the partnership at a later point.

  • The NIHR-funded Translational Research Collaboration in Dementia, spanning six NHS Trusts, is also a stakeholder in the UKDP. NIHR has recently instigated a feasibility study to identify biomarkers in Alzheimer’s Disease, in partnership with MRC, which if successful will lead to a full joint MRC-NIHR funded project that will be incorporated into the UKDP in 2015.

  • The UK Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research will be involved in the UKDP through the College of Medicine at Swansea University.