A research team at the University of Salford has been awarded just over £80,000 for a pioneering project into a rare form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia.
The three-year study, funded by the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, kicks off this week and coincides with World Frontotemporal Dementia Awareness Week (4-11 October). The week aims to raise the profile of this devastating form of dementia amongst the public and highlight the progress that research can make to tackle it.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) affects parts of the brain involved in personality, emotion, language and behaviour. It tends to affect people at a younger age and is the leading cause of dementia in people under the age of 50.
Over the past thirty years, researchers in the North West have spearheaded research efforts to characterise the disease, which can affect people in a variety of different ways. Thanks to this new funding, scientists in the region can continue to build on their understanding of this distressing disease with the aim of improving the lives of those affected.
Unravel complex causes
Dr Gemma Lace-Costigan, a Lecturer at the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Salford, will use the new funding to support a postgraduate researcher to study and help unravel the complex mechanisms driving FTD. Her team is interested in the abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain, which is a hallmark of diseases like FTD.
She said: “Cells in our body normally use a waste disposal system to destroy abnormal or damaged proteins that could be harmful, but this important process seems to go awry in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We believe that this mechanism could also be faulty in frontotemporal dementia and that by kick-starting it again, we could potentially help cells to deal with the build-up of abnormal proteins and protect them from damage.”
Dr Lace-Costigan and her research student Richard Heale will study over 100 brain samples from people with and without Alzheimer’s disease, as well as those with FTD, that have been generously donated to the Manchester Brain Bank. They will study brain cells in minute detail to discover what might be going wrong with this ‘waste disposal’ system in people with FTD and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Lace-Costigan then plans to follow up these findings by studying this important process in cells grown cells in the laboratory to see if drugs can correct the faulty mechanism and potentially protect cells from destruction.
She said: “The ultimate aim of any dementia research project is to contribute to understanding that will improve the lives of people living with the condition. We’re incredibly grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for this funding which we hope will help us unravel what’s driving FTD and provide clues to how we could develop new treatments in the future.”
Helen Beaumont from Manchester has been speaking out about the need for more research into FTD since losing her husband to the disease in 1999. She said:
“My husband Clive was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia when he was 45 and it turned our lives upside down. It took a while to get a diagnosis and because awareness of the disease is so low, very few people understood what we were going through. Dementia can be very isolating for the person affected and those around them, but it shouldn’t be.
Since our experience I’ve made it my mission to fight for better awareness of frontotemporal dementia, and increased funding for research into the disease, so that other families are protected from this heartbreak in the future. It’s heartening to see new investment in research right here on my doorstep.”
£3m research funding
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, including around 30,000 in Greater Manchester alone. While frontotemporal dementia is a rarer form of dementia, it is still an incredibly important condition to understand and has a huge impact on the lives of those affected and their loved ones.
"We’re pleased to have been able to support over £3m of groundbreaking research in the North West, including this new project in Salford. As a charity, we rely entirely on donations from the public to fund our research and are very grateful to our supporters who have made this funding possible.”
Anyone wanting to know more about frontotemporal dementia or the work of the charity can visit www.alzheimersresearchuk.org or call 0300 111 5555.
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