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Government 'must triple' dementia research funding or 'pay price', scientists warn

21 July 2009

Professor Simon Lovestone and Dr Diane Hanger from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's are two of 31 of the UK’s leading dementia scientists who have signed an open letter calling on the government to use today’s ministerial summit on dementia research to end 'years of underfunding'. They are calling for a threefold increase in investment into efforts to find new treatments, preventions and cures for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The Alzheimer’s Research Trust coordinated campaign has the backing of two other charities: the Alzheimer’s Society and Parkinson’s Disease Society. The letter warns that the UK’s 'key weakness is lack of funding, not lack of talent'.  The letter reads:

'Today the government will hold a ministerial dementia research summit at the Royal Society. After years of underfunding, it is encouraging that dementia research is receiving serious attention.  Within a generation, 1.4 million people in the UK will live with dementia, costing our economy £50 billion per year. Yet for every pound spent on dementia care, a fraction of a penny is spent on research into defeating the condition.  Our key weakness is lack of funding, not lack of talent. The Government must use this summit to initiate a national dementia research strategy. Most importantly, it must commit to tripling its annual support for dementia research to £96 million within five years.  If the government squanders this opportunity, we will all pay the price.'

Today’s dementia research summit, hosted by the health minister Phil Hope and chaired by Baroness Sally Greengross, brings together scores of leading scientists and people affected by dementia as the government reconsiders its approach to dementia research. The MRC and Department of Health led event is widely seen as a response to criticism from charities, scientists and campaigners that the severe underfunding of dementia research has not been dealt with adequately, despite the enormous increase in dementia in the UK and wordwide. 

Dr Diane Hanger, MRC Centre for Neurodegeneration Research, Department of Neuroscience at the IoP says:  'In recent years, many ground-breaking discoveries in Alzheimer’s disease have originated in the UK. However, persistent limitations in research funding have hampered translation of these important discoveries into the clinic. The shortage of research funding has also restricted the type of research that we can undertake.  There are many talented research scientists in the UK working on basic biological mechanisms involved in Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to understand these processes so that new pharmacological targets for dementia can be identified. It is essential that there is an urgent improvement in funding for dementia research in the UK and that the government provides adequate funds to enable researchers to discover and develop new treatments.'

Prof John Hardy FRS, Scientific Adviser to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: 'Dementia research has been neglected for too long. It receives eight times less government support than cancer research, yet dementia care costs our economy more than cancer, heart disease and stroke combined. Spending millions now could save billions later. The NHS offers unique opportunities to trial new treatments – yet we are missing the chance to exploit this immense potential.'

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: 'The UK is fortunate to play host to the world’s leading dementia scientists. We punch well above our weight in the fight against a disease that afflicts 30 million people worldwide. Given the £17 billion annual cost of dementia care, the government cannot afford to get its dementia research policy wrong.'

For further information:  The Alzheimer's Research Trust

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