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Neurodegenerative Research Awards

03 November 2009

The Institute of Psychiatry at King’s is one of the research partners in a £17 million funding round from the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council that will support three major new Neurodegenerative disease projects with particular focus on Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease and Motor Neurone Disease.

The multi-disciplinary collaborations aim to provide a better understanding of the causes of these diseases in a bid to improve early diagnosis and develop more effective therapies. The collaborations bring together leading academic research teams from around the UK, from London, Bristol, Cambridge, Dundee, Manchester and Sheffield, as well as leading international groups and pharmaceutical companies.

Professor Christopher Shaw from the MRC Centre for Neurodegeneration Research at the IoP at King’s who will be leading a project on Motor Neurone Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia comments: ‘Recent research on Motor Neurone Disease and Frontotemporal Dementia has shown that RNA-processing proteins are deposited in degenerating nerve cells and that rare mutations in three known genes cause a genetic form of these diseases.’

Using these discoveries, Professor Shaw and his colleagues will model key aspects of the human disorders, allowing them to explore fundamental disease mechanisms and identify new therapeutic targets.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, Chair of the Neurodegenerative Diseases Initiative Funding Committee said of the research proposals: ‘These are teams of outstanding researchers with a clear vision and innovative approach to understanding these conditions and towards developing novel interventions.

‘The scientific challenges are considerable and these benefits will not materialise overnight, but these major awards will change the research landscape in which these disorders are being addressed. Neurodegenerative diseases represent a significant burden on patients and carers, as well to wider society and the economy. As the elderly population increases worldwide, this burden is set to increase further.’

New therapeutic approaches

Although treatment options are already available for some conditions, these are generally of very limited effectiveness and treat the symptoms rather than preventing onset. The development of new therapeutic approaches is therefore essential. Alongside this, identifying markers to allow for the earliest possible diagnosis will maximise the effectiveness of preventative measures and optimise the use of current treatments.

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust says: ‘Neurodegenerative diseases cause a great deal of human suffering and place considerable burden on our health services. New advances in biomedical science, ranging from clinical through to molecular and genetic studies – make this an exceptionally timely moment to focus on better understanding what causes these conditions and ever earlier identification of their incipient onset.’

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the MRC, says: ‘It’s likely that over our lifetimes we will all be touched in some way by the impact of neurodegenerative diseases. By investment in the scientific excellence now, we hope research will bear real fruit in future practice, eventually leading to improved early diagnosis and more effective therapies. We’re proud to provide some of the financial muscle behind these really innovative research projects, which embrace a number of disciplines, to tackle these debilitating conditions.’

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