Imperial College London announces today a £7.5 million gift from the Michael Uren Foundation in support of research into Alzheimer’s disease.
This very generous donation will drive forward four experimental research projects that aim to improve diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and develop effective new avenues for treatment.
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder where the connections between nerve cells in the brain are lost or damaged, which causes changes in thinking, remembering, reasoning and behaviour. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia (which affects more than 55 million people worldwide) and is thought to contribute to 60-70% of cases. There is currently no cure for dementia.
The four programmes of Alzheimer’s disease research will be led by scientists from the UK Dementia Research Institute at Imperial.
The projects will enable development of new drug therapies to target the most promising molecules in the brain; accelerate a new treatment that combines brain stimulation technology with drug treatment to delay disease progression; boost daily clearance of toxic brain waste; and enable robust new methods to identify and target the generation of toxic proteins in the brain.
Translational research of this kind is essential to ensure that scientific breakthroughs result in promising new treatments, but is often difficult to fund at an early stage of development. The £7.5 million donation from the Michael Uren Foundation will enable Imperial scientists to capitalise on the research breakthroughs already made, de-risking the concepts and treatment approaches involved and accelerating their translation into patient care.
Professor Paul Matthews, Head of the Department of Brain Sciences and Head of the UK Dementia Research Institute at Imperial, says: “The impact of this gift from the Michael Uren Foundation is immense. Thanks to their support, we are able to move exciting, early discoveries towards proof of principle, enabling us to attract new partnerships and investment so that we can develop the future of care for Alzheimer’s disease.”
In the UK, one in 14 people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, which rises to one in six people over the age of 80. More than 900,000 people in the country are living with the disease and this number is projected to rise to nearly 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most significant causes of disability and dependency among older people globally and there are major physical, mental, social and economic impacts for people living with dementia, as well as their families, carers and society more widely.
Despite major advances in understanding the pathology and risk factors of dementia, the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown and there is currently no treatment available to cure the disease.
"This is a wonderful example of how philanthropy enables our scientists to think outside the box to transform healthcare." Professor Jonathan Weber Dean of the Faculty of Medicine
The £7.5 million gift from the Michael Uren Foundation will provide a significant opportunity to expand the College’s research and expertise in this area and develop effective new treatments that can prevent, slow or even reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Jonathan Weber, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, says: “Imperial researchers have worked tirelessly to uncover breakthroughs in this poorly-understood disease and we now have the opportunity to harness these discoveries to make a positive impact for patients and their families. This is a wonderful example of how philanthropy enables our scientists to think outside the box to transform healthcare.”
The Michael Uren Foundation
The late Sir Michael Uren is the most generous benefactor in the College’s history and the Michael Uren Foundation has carried on his legacy of philanthropy at Imperial since his passing in 2019 at age 95. Sir Michael was a proud Imperial alumnus who graduated from the Mechanical Engineering and Motive Power programme in 1943.
"Donations for translational research of this kind enable our researchers to take a risk on promising new discoveries and help bring them out into the world, where they can make a difference." Professor Hugh Brady President of Imperial College London
Previous support from Sir Michael Uren and the Michael Uren Foundation includes generous gifts over many years to fund pioneering work led by Professor Justin Cobb in the MSk Lab (for musculoskeletal health), two endowed interdisciplinary PhD scholarships at the intersection of engineering and medicine, an endowed annual prize named in Sir Michael’s honour for an exceptional postgraduate student, and a £40 million gift to create the Sir Michael Uren Hub (for biomedical engineering) at Imperial’s White City Campus, among other significant support for the College.
The Trustees of the Michael Uren Foundation say: “Sir Michael Uren’s philanthropic vision has helped expand the frontiers of medical research and improve care for generations of patients. We are delighted to be partnering with Imperial College London once again to continue the late Sir Michael’s legacy and enable research into this devastating disease. Finding solutions to tackle Alzheimer’s is an immense task but we hope this gift brings us a step closer.”
Professor Hugh Brady, President of Imperial College London, thanks the Foundation for their support: “Imperial is a hub for medical discovery and translation, and philanthropy has always been an integral part of this. The generosity and vision of the Michael Uren Foundation is inspiring – donations for translational research of this kind enable our researchers to take a risk on promising new discoveries and help bring them out into the world, where they can make a difference.”
About the projects
Each of the four projects the Michael Uren Foundation is funding represents a distinct but promising area for transforming care for Alzheimer’s patients.
Prioritising high-impact targets for Alzheimer’s treatment
Dr Abbas Dehghan, Reader in Cardiometabolic Disease Epidemiology; Professor Ioanna Tzoulaki, Professor in Chronic Disease Epidemiology, School of Public Health; Professor Paul Matthews, Edmond and Lily Safra Professor of Translational Neuroscience and Therapeutics
While many molecules are involved in Alzheimer’s disease, modifying of only a small fraction will relieve patients’ symptoms or slow or stop their progression. With so many potential targets, how do we decide which molecules to prioritise when developing new drug treatments?
Our researchers aim to identify and modulate molecules that are thought to cause both Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease, such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease. If effective modulatory drugs can be identified, they would provide insight into the pathology of both diseases while having value for treatment.
Combining brain stimulation technology with drug treatments to reverse dementia progression
Dr Nir Grossman, Lecturer in Dementia Research; Dr Samuel Barnes, Lecturer in Dementia Research; Professor Paul Matthews, Edmond and Lily Safra Professor of Translational Neuroscience and Therapeutics
Coordination and connectivity between brain cells is essential to healthy cognitive function, but in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the electrical activity of brain cells is disrupted. This breaks connections in the brain, leading to degeneration on a cellular and network level and impacting the brain’s natural mechanisms to repair itself.
Imperial researchers have developed a bioelectronic technology that is capable of changing and improving cognitive function through deep brain stimulation, which could previously only be done through invasive surgery. This project will pair the technology with medication that improves the brain’s ability to form new connections. Our researchers hope that this approach will help to restore the neural connections damaged by Alzheimer’s disease and potentially reverse the progression of the disease.
Treating dementia by boosting daily clearance of toxic brain waste
Dr Marco Brancaccio, Lecturer in Dementia Research; Professor William Wisden, Chair in Molecular Neuroscience; Professor Paul Matthews, Edmond and Lily Safra Professor of Translational Neuroscience and Therapeutics; Dr Yu Ye, Lecturer in Dementia Research
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are associated with disturbed circadian rhythms, which refer to the 'internal clock' that governs the body’s biological cues to sleep and wake. This in turn worsens the progression of Alzheimer’s as the brain is incapable of fulfilling its normal daily processes such as clearing toxic protein build-up. The accumulation of toxic proteins causes inflammation in the brain and is thought to accelerate the spread of neurodegenerative disease.
Imperial researchers aim to develop new drug treatments to improve the circadian rhythms within the brain on a cellular level so that normal brain patterns of producing and clearing waste are maintained.
Therapeutic targeting of the generation of toxic protein fragments
Dr Yu Ye, Lecturer in Dementia Research; Professor Paul Matthews, Edmond and Lily Safra Professor of Translational Neuroscience and Therapeutics; Dr David Owen, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacology
In Alzheimer’s disease, fragments of protein known as beta-amyloid build up in the brain and form abnormal structures between nerve cells called ‘plaques’. These protein fragments are thought to have a toxic effect in the brain which differ depending on their size, type and number.
Our researchers will investigate which brain cells are chiefly responsible for the production of toxic beta-amyloid and develop new treatments that enhance cells’ mechanisms to break down toxic protein fragments into less damaging structures.
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