You may have questions about the kinds of research we fund and why.
We endeavour to find answers to the big questions in dementia using non-animal methods but sometimes working within a living system is the only option and offers the best chance of breakthroughs.
Research using animals has produced some of the most important findings to date in medicine and made real progress in the fight against dementia. You can read more in this booklet. The majority of our research projects use cells, computer analysis, human tissue or volunteers. Around a third involve animals – worms, fruit flies or rodents – in situations where other methods would not suffice. You can read more about our policy on animal research.
If you would like to support research into dementia but are not comfortable supporting research using animals, it is possible to restrict your donation to non-animal projects if you let us know at the time you make your donation.
Stem cells are specialised cells in our bodies which can develop into any other type of cell – a blood cell, bone cell or even a brain cell. This unique ability makes them useful for research. There are no treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias that use stem cells, but scientists can turn stem cells into nerve cells and use these to study brain cells, and the effects of Alzheimer’s, in the lab.
Stem cells come from two sources
- Adults. Stem cells can be collected from a small skin biopsy.
- Embryos. Stem cells can be collected from embryos after a termination or embryos leftover from IVF treatments.
All UK research involving embryonic stem cells is strictly regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
We support research using stem cells to understand Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Our stem cell research projects focus on using stem cells made from adult skin cells. You can read more about how this process is being used in our Stem Cell Research Centre.
However as this is a relatively new research technique, some of our stem cell researchers may still study stem cells derived from human embryos to make sure their skin cell-derived stem cells are behaving in the way they would expect of naturally-occurring stem cells.
If you would like to restrict your donation to non-stem cell research projects, you can let us know when making a donation.
A diagnosis of dementia gives people the opportunity to access treatments, care and support. Several drug and non-drug treatments are effective in mild to moderate dementia, and some are more effective when started earlier in the disease.
Diagnosing dementia also allows people to plan ahead and make choices about their future care, while they have capacity to make such important decisions. It enables people to access treatments and therapies and decide to take part in research if they wish.
Diagnosing dementia early is also important for research into new treatments. Current treatments cannot slow or halt the progress of Alzheimer’s or other dementias and this is an important goal for research. Experts believe that future treatments will be most effective when given early, when there is least damage to the brain. Early diagnosis is important to identify people who could take part in clinical research to help test new treatment approaches as a time when they’re likely to be most effective.
Read our policy report on the importance of a timely diagnosis.
We co-lead the International Alzheimer’s disease Research Funder Consortium, and have regular teleconferences and contact with other members to discuss our latest research strategies, projects and findings. We also have an International Advisory Board of world-leading experts to offer guidance on our Research Strategy and ensure that our research is joined up with global efforts. Thanks to these initiatives, we are identifying gaps in research areas, exploring new opportunities for collaboration and avoiding duplication. Read more about our Research Partnerships.
Dementia research is hugely underfunded, especially when compared to other major diseases. It receives almost ten times less funding than cancer research, for example.
This could partly be the result of misunderstanding of dementia and what causes it. In the past, Alzheimer’s and other dementias were seen as a normal part of ageing, rather than specific diseases. There has also long been stigma attached to dementia and people are sometimes reluctant to talk about it. We are working hard to change this and encourage people to speak out about their experiences. If you would like to help us raise the profile of dementia, you can become an Alzheimer’s Research UK volunteer.
We also need to grow capacity in dementia research – encouraging more scientists to work on dementia. We are investing to build up the UK’s research capacity, by training young scientists as well as encouraging established researchers to move across into dementia research. By raising more funds for vital research, we can make progress faster than ever before.