Director announced to lead UK Dementia Research Institute in London

The director of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) has been named as Professor Bart De Strooper, current leader of the Laboratory for the Research of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Leuven and scientific director at VIB (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie) in Belgium. Professor De Strooper will lead the national institute from UCL

The UK DRI is a joint £250m investment into dementia research led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) alongside founding charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The Institute will be catalytic in the UK’s research efforts to diagnose, treat, care for and prevent dementias, a group of neurodegenerative disorders that include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s disease and vascular dementia. It will transform dementias research by connecting researchers working across different disciplines, including those outside of the dementias field, and attracting leading experts from around the UK and the world.

Professor De Strooper was chosen as the Director of the UK DRI after a competitive search led by the MRC. The Institute’s Hub location was confirmed as UCL following a rigorous peer review selection process from a shortlist of five leading universities.

The university was recognised for its world-class dementias research and state-of-the art facilities. The Hub will closely link with a number of regional DRI Centres across the UK, with the selection process for the additional centres already under way. These awards will be announced in the spring, which will trigger a recruitment exercise to attract leading researchers to the DRI Hub and Centres through 2017/18.

Professor De Strooper said: “I am delighted to be directing a world-leading initiative with as much as potential as the UK DRI. The UK research landscape is brimming with talent and opportunity and, thanks to the NHS, research is closely allied to patients. My vision is to establish a unique environment with a diverse and interdisciplinary team ready to undertake creative and innovative research."

“I want the Institute to be the most exciting place in the world for breakthrough dementias research. To achieve this we need to not only join forces and facilitate closer interaction between leading groups currently working in this area, but also bring together talented scientists in completely different and previously overlooked fields that could contribute towards our understanding of the dementias. We have a huge amount of discovery science to do – and I want to see real surprises,” said Professor De Strooper.

The Institute will be on the frontline of modern neuroscience research and aims to accelerate the pace of discovery research and identify new targets for drug development. In addition, it will develop new approaches for the delivery of effective clinical trials to targeted patients groups, attract new partnerships with the biopharmaceutical sector to develop new therapeutics and diagnostics and develop and promote strategies for intervention that prevent the development or progression of dementia. In addition to its biomedical focus, the UK DRI will establish a significant programme in care research, embracing the development of supportive technologies.

Dr Rob Buckle, Director of Science Programmes at the MRC, said: “We expect the DRI to fulfil its ambitious goals by actually taking a step back and looking at the gaps in our current knowledge. The disappointing results of the recent anti-amyloid trial for Alzheimer’s disease highlights the need for a much deeper understanding of the biological mechanisms and the interacting factors at play."

“A likely problem with this and many other failed clinical trials has been the inability to target these patients at a stage of the disease where it could still be treatable. A more complete picture of dementia, coupled with an understanding of the interplay with other diseases and lifestyle factors that may influence the progression of neurodegeneration, will allow us to target patients at the most receptive stage, offering the most promise to patients.”

Recruitment will take place throughout 2017 from around the world to populate the DRI scientific programmes at the DRI Hub and Centres, including plans for twenty new independent group leader positions for young ambitious scientists. A further phase of the Institute’s development will establish a DRI Centre focussed on care and public health research in 2018.

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