Bags of money for dementia

UK supermarkets pledge cash from new initiative to UCL research institute. Jon Sutton reports.

UK supermarkets Iceland, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose have pledged funds from the new levy on single-use carrier bags to support the construction of a new dementia research centre at University College London.

The Dementia Research Institute will bring together researchers to lead national and international efforts to find effective treatments and improve the lives of those with dementia. Professor Alan Thompson, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, said: ‘Dementia is the greatest scientific, medical and socio-economic challenge of our times and affects more than 35 million people worldwide. UCL, through its translational neuroscience at Queen Square, can bring the breadth and depth of expertise required to deliver therapeutic advances to this devastating condition. Philanthropy has made a huge difference in tackling global diseases such as cancer and malaria and this unprecedented initiative sees UK retailers acting collaboratively to tackle the tragedy that is dementia and neurodegenerative diseases.’

The £350 million project currently has a shortfall in funding of £100 million, and the cash expected to be generated by carrier bag sales from Britain’s food retailers has the potential to bridge much of that gap. With the global cost of dementia estimated at more than £500 billion, the disease currently costs the UK economy more than cancer and heart disease combined. However, nearly seven times as much is spent on cancer research as is spent on dementia research by both the government and charities.

Dr Susie Henley, a Chartered Psychologist in the Dementia Research Centre, UCL Institute of Neurology, told us: ‘Psychologists are a key part of the team at the Dementia Research Centre. Much of our work focuses on cognitive assessment: for example assessing annual change in cognition in patients with Alzheimer's Disease; developing tests to detect the earliest signs of cognitive decline in familial (inherited) Alzheimer's and FrontoTemporal Dementia; or mapping the profile of dementias where language decline, not memory, is a primary feature (Semantic Dementia, Progressive Non-Fluent Aphasia, Logopaenic Progressive Aphasia). We also strive to increase our understanding of the experience of living with a dementia, and hence improve care and services. For example, the "Seeing what they see" project, led by psychology professor Seb Crutch, is a collaboration between psychologists, engineers, social scientists from Brunel University and patients with Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA, a form of Alzheimer's that affects visuospatial skills rather than memory) that is working to understand how people with PCA see the world, and from that, how we can adapt living environments to improve their quality of life.

‘We are really grateful to the supermarkets for donating the plastic bag fee towards a Dementia Research Institute. As well as providing much-needed extra space for assessing our participants, the Institute will strengthen collaboration with other fields both nationally and internationally – for example we would like to work with our more lab-based neuroscience colleagues to see if we can map associations between what is going on at a cellular level in the brain, and what we, as psychologists, measure in terms of cognition and behaviour. We would also like to develop more inter-disciplinary projects like "Seeing what they see" in which we encourage other professions to think about how their skills can be used to improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their families. For psychologists the Institute represents a national resource that will allow us to branch out in these ways and ultimately contribute to better understanding, and hopefully treatment, for the dementias.’

- For more information on Dementia research at UCL see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dementia

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