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28/11/2014

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The dementia lab

Laura Phipps lifts the lid on dementia research

Laura Phipps lifts the lid on dementia research

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With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia and numbers rising, there has been a huge increase in interest around dementia and research. To help the public feel more informed about dementia research and confident in interpreting new research findings, we at Alzheimer’s Research UK created a virtual lab tour – The Lab.

The Lab takes people through three photo-realistic research environments – Discovery Lab, Development Lab and The Clinic – representing the translation of ideas through to new treatments for people with dementia.

Discovery

The Discovery Lab represents the early stages of the research process. Visitors can learn about how researchers’ ideas are funded and the current state-of-play of dementia research funding in the UK.

Despite dementia costing the UK economy more than £23bn a year, dementia research still only accounts for around 2.5 per cent of the government research budget. Our Dementia 2010 report showed that investment in research for every £1million in social and health costs was £129,269 for cancer and only £4,882 for dementia.

The Discovery Lab reveals more about why studying the minute detail of genes and molecules can help to unravel dementia, why fruit flies can provide important insight into the genetics behind diseases like Alzheimer’s, and presents slide shows of amazing images seen down the microscope by our researchers.

Discoveries made at this stage can make huge strides for our understanding of the diseases that cause dementia, but there is often a long way to go before these findings lead to benefits for people.

Development and clinic

The Development Lab takes these findings a step further, discussing how potential new treatments developed from these ideas are shortlisted for testing in people.

This area also helps people to understand other types of clinical research, from the development of blood-based markers to improve detection of diseases like Alzheimer’s, to longitudinal studies vital for teasing apart risk factors.

The final stage of The Lab is called The Clinic and discusses how new treatments are taken through clinical trials. Successes at this stage can have a direct impact on people with dementia, but these studies can take many years and cost many millions of pounds.

The Clinic also outlines a new drug discovery initiative announced by Alzheimer’s Research UK to help streamline the development of new drug targets, to help bring benefits to patients sooner.

Hopes for support

Visitors to The Lab can connect to the site using Facebook, allowing their visit to be individually tailored and to encourage them to pledge their support for dementia research to their network of friends.

There are many different ways to support research, from fundraising for Alzheimer’s Research UK to volunteering to take part in research studies. The Lab empowers people to take an active interest in research and how they can help.

We know through talking to our supporters that medical research fascinates people and supporting research can provide hope and positivity to those going through tough times. But the idea of dementia research can also be an intimidating one. With so many different kinds of research taking place into dementia and new research breakthroughs announced every day, it can be difficult to know how it all fits together.

With around 40 per cent of the UK population knowing a close friend or family member with dementia, it is a subject close to many hearts and its impacts can be felt across generations. We want The Lab to be an engaging and fun way for our supporters to learn about the research we are funding, as well as attracting new and younger audiences to show an interest in medical research.

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Dr Laura Phipps
Dr Laura Phipps is the Science Communications Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity
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