BRACE has announced a £280,000 investment in the region’s top dementia science teams.

The South West and South Wales already hosts some of the world’s leading dementia research experts and the new money will ensure more vital work will be carried out in the search for treatments and, ultimately, a cure.

Four teams, spread across the University of Bristol, Swansea University and Plymouth University, have been awarded almost £280,000 between them for a range of leading edge projects.

Dr Evie Stergiakouli (inset photo), who works in the MRC Intergrative Epidemiology Unit at The University of Bristol, has received £60,000 to study the genes that may make us more prone to developing dementia.

Dr Stergiakouli said, “Although there have been great advances in understanding the genetic factors involved in Alzheimer’s, there are still no confirmed environmental factors that can be targeted to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s in the population. With this project, we aim to identify early determinants of the disease in children and test if they are causing Alzheimer’s.”

Fellow Bristol scientist Dr Catherine Pennington has been awarded £43,000 to refine the diagnosis of dementia so it isn’t confused with other psychological illnesses. She said, “It can be very difficult to tell the difference between psychological causes of memory loss and dementia. My work will investigate how and why psychological issues impact on brain function, and I will work with affected individuals to generate ideas for new therapies that could help. It's important that people get the right diagnosis at the right time. The wrong diagnosis can be very distressing, and mean the wrong medication is used.

“The support of BRACE is vital to help improve the lives of those affected by of psychological causes of intellectual problems.”

At Swansea University Dr Jeffrey Davies has received a grant of £88,000 to study how it might be possible to protect nerve cells damaged in Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Davies explained: “We’re delighted to receive generous funding from BRACE to test whether the stomach hormone, ghrelin, can protect nerve cells that are damaged and lost in Alzheimer’s disease. With this funding we will build upon previous findings from rodents to determine whether the hormone exerts a similar influence on human neurones. In particular, we’re keen to understand how ghrelin influences autophagy (often referred to as a cell’s waste disposal system). We’ll also be working with human brain tissue to see whether key ghrelin-related proteins are altered in Alzheimer’s disease’.”

Finally Dr Oleg Anichtchik, from Plymouth University, has been awarded £86,000 to investigate a novel mechanism for dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) development, the second-most prevalent form of dementia. The funding for a PhD post will support ongoing research into DLB, which is caused by tiny deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in nerve cells.

For the first time the research will be investigating how a build-up of alpha-synuclein can fragment mitochondria. Mitochondria are small structures within nerve cells that help keep the cells healthy and working properly – they are, in effect, the power generators of the cell.

These findings will be valuable in ongoing work to identify drug possibilities for the treatment and early prevention of the disease.

Mark Poarch, Chief Executive of BRACE, said he was delighted that the charity could support so much leading edge dementia research here in the South West. He said, “It’s by funding the brightest minds that we will one day find treatments, and hopefully a cure, for all forms of dementia. This research is made possible by the generosity of the people who support BRACE and I would urge as many people as possible in the South West and South Wales to get behind our mission to end dementia for good.”