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Outdoor portrait of Dr Ivan Koychev. © Anna Lukala
Dr Ivan Koychev leads Great Minds

Thursday 31 January 2019

Today is special. In the first hours since launching Great Minds we have recruited our pioneering 10 volunteers. This is an important step for dementia research, because Great Minds members hold the key to discovering the origins of the disease. Researchers, looking for volunteers with specific characteristics, will use our members’ extensive health data to identify the best people for their studies. The ability to do this is critical for dementia research as we now know this devastating condition starts up to 25 years before first symptoms. Therefore any research that aims to disentangle the processes that cause it has to be able to go back to its earliest stages.

We began work on Great Minds at the end of 2017 and this week we were finally able to invite our pilot study group of participants to join. Successful research depends on collaborative partnerships across fields of research and, thanks to our partners at Imperial College’s Airwave study group, our pilot invitation to Airwave participants resulted in our first members joining.

For the past 15 years, Airwave’s Principal Investigator (PI), Professor Paul Elliott, has been investigating the long-term health impact of police radio use on a study group of volunteers from across The Force.  The study has collected and analysed, among other data, memory tests, blood samples and genetic information from participants, tracking changes in their health over time. The partnership with Airwave shows the tremendous value of study groups to dementia research, especially where studies promote membership of Great Minds to their participants.

We understand that membership of Great Minds requires a notable commitment, so when we launched we wanted to be sure that we would attract a positive response.  We’ve consulted researchers, an ethics board and a public panel to make sure that the invitation to become a member of Great Minds, and the process of joining, is simple, compelling and secure. 

The pilot concludes at the end of February and we expect findings to come through in March. Based on the results of the pilot we will extend our invitation to the entire Airwave study group of 53,000 people. We anticipate that the number of Airwave participants who join Great Minds will compare favourably with our estimate of 10%. With 38% of the UK population knowing a family member or close friend with dementia and 62% of people saying they would be willing to take part in dementia research, I notice time and again, from seeing dementia research volunteers, that the public is ready to be an active partner in the fight against dementia. This initial strong surge in recruitment during the first week of the invitation to Airwave participants is a tremendous, but from my experience, unsurprising boost for the project.

The biggest health crisis the UK faces today is the growing number of people living with dementia. This pilot is a milestone on the journey to discovering the causes of this disease and is laying the foundations for previously unfeasible methods for developing treatments of Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages.