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At the panel table, a leading stem cell scientist sat next to an imaging expert, who was next to a research participant, who was next to the chief investigator of a just-launched nationwide dementia study. These people together represent both the future of dementia research and the outcome of five years’ work to completely transform dementia research infrastructure in the UK.

Four people sat on a panel including Professor John Gallacher.
DPUK has created a multidisciplinary network of expertise in dementia research

This was the vision of DPUK Director, John Gallacher, five years ago. His leadership of the project, including the development of three major infrastructure networks and a number of cross-disciplinary expert communities, has completely transformed how scientists are able to test ideas. It’s making breakthroughs in dementia research by increasing the precision, capacity and opportunity for in-human research, to improve the success of clinical trials and accelerate the development of new treatments. It’s allowed ambitious studies which look in detail at the early stages of dementia to become a reality.

Multidisciplinary network of expertise to improve diagnosis and treatment

It’s difficult to underestimate how special this is, in the often siloed world of academia and the competitive world of industry. Cross-disciplinary working is not common, and sharing resources across departments is equally rare. Dementia is a phenomenally complex set of diseases. To unpick the molecular pathways that will solve it needed a visionary approach. It needed scientists working together to tackle the problem from all angles.

Seeing researchers collaborating like this, it's going to make such a difference. We're going to find something years before we would've done. I just feel so much hope. - Hilary Doxford, dementia research advocate

DPUK infrastructure is bringing us closer to new treatments

Today scientists are using the Data Portal – the world’s most in-depth data repository optimised for dementia research. Experimental scientists and those running clinical trials are starting to ‘see’ the earliest molecular processes associated with dementia in living patients thanks to the PET-MR Imaging Network. Stem cell technology is allowing researchers to model dementia ‘in a dish’, helping to identify new targets for drug treatments.

In this new dementia research landscape we are now seeing the start of more in-depth studies into dementia, including the launch of the world’s most detailed study into preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

Present at the event were a number of industry representatives and third sector organisations – MRC, ARUK and Alzheimer’s Society, which have funded DPUK’s first phase. The ‘pre-competitive’ environment that DPUK has created brings industry expertise from a range of companies right into the heart of the organisation. It means that academic studies and resources are focused on the best avenues for drug development.

We are not yet at the stage of announcing new treatments, but thanks to the real cross-disciplinary, university-industry collaboration, we are closer than ever before in tracking the disease development early – at the stage we may be able to intervene to prevent or delay it.

Over the last five years the major change that we see is that we can ask more detailed questions. Dementia is not just one disease: there are multiple causes. We've  increased capacity to ask the very specialised questions now. To me that's a great advance.  - John Gallacher, Director of DPUK