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My experience in dementia research

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Alzheimer’s Research UK has a mission to make breakthroughs possible by supporting the efforts in scientific research on dementia. It is an ambitious and challenging goal. I would like to shed more light on what this mission looks like in practice based on my own experience working in research.

Last year I undertook a 12-month research traineeship at the Drug Discovery Institute at University College London. The institute is a part of the initiative called Drug Discovery Alliance, uniting three institutes based at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and University College London. The aim is to bridge the gap between academia and the pharmaceutical industry to bring about discoveries and drug development in dementia research. This £30 million alliance was launched in February 2015 by Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The time I spent as a trainee made me realise the diversity and depth of expertise that is needed to overcome diseases like Alzheimer’s.  I worked with people from many different backgrounds and from both academia and industry, as we looked at ways to develop a successful drug from different scientific angles, including biology, chemistry, and pharmacology. This unique and inspiring environment really empowered me to do my best and to continuously endeavour to support the efforts that everyone was putting in.

Research over many years has shown significant evidence that there is a strong inflammatory response in the brains of people with various forms of dementia. During my traineeship I learnt a way to model neuroinflammation by culturing brain immune cells (called microglia) in a laboratory dish. Laboratory settings are a powerful tool as you can precisely control the environment in which you culture microglia. You can then design experiments to see what can help microglia to do their job properly. The current accepted approach is to make them more anti-inflammatory and less pro-inflammatory. In practice, however, it is not as easy and straightforward. Further research will allow us to better understand how microglia contribute to neuroinflammation seen in the brain.

The time spent in the institute taught me not only what it means to be a scientist but also how important it is to work together in a team towards your goal – making breakthroughs that will eventually help to overcome dementia. This experience has become my motivation to continue research in dementia. I believe that someday we will live in a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK has been supporting other big research initiatives like the Dementia Research Institute, the Stem Cell Research Centre, and others. If you are interested in more details, their website provides great source of information: (https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org).

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