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Dementia research receives cash boost of nearly £200,000

Three additional PhD students will soon take up posts at the University of Exeter Medical School thanks to generous donations from supporters.

Gifts totalling £190,000 will support innovative research into new dementia treatments led by Professor Katie Lunnon, Associate Professor in Epigenetics. These have been match-funded as part of the Diamond Jubilee Scholarship programme.

The Thomas/Crooke Studentship is funded by alumnus David Thomas (Mathematics, 1965) and Alex Crooke and will fund research into Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease resulting in dementia, characterised by changes in two proteins. At present there is no cure and current medications only treat the symptoms, but do not reverse the changes that have occurred in the brain.

One potential treatment strategy involves vaccinating people against the amyloid protein that accumulates in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, however far more research is needed. This studentship will support cutting-edge genomic research to identify the alterations in how genes are regulated and expressed in these individuals as a result of this immunotherapy.  

The findings from this study could help in the design of safer, more efficient immunotherapies in the future.

The Charles Wolfson Studentship is funded by the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust and will support research into Dementia with Lewy bodies.

This research will focus on a mechanism called epigenetics, which is how genes are turned on and off, in the brain of people with Dementia with Lewy bodies.

It will look at a chemical tag called methylation, which is added to the DNA and regulates how much of that gene is expressed. Using advances in genetic technology it will be possible to compare this tag at more than 850,000 sites in the genome in the brain of people with Dementia with Lewy bodies to people without any cognitive problems.

This project is the first epigenetic study in Dementia with Lewy bodies and, as epigenetic changes are potentially reversible, this means that if changes in disease can be identified researchers could explore them as potential new targets for treatment.

The John Slate Studentship is funded by alumnus John Slate (History and Archaeology, 1986), a long-term supporter of the University.

This studentship will fund research into levels of DNA methylation in the brain. Katie’s research has shown that there is altered DNA methylation in a specific gene in someone with dementia, but researchers do not yet know if this is causing the disease, or is secondary to the disease process.

Using state-of-the-art genetic engineering technology in cell models, this research will change the amount of the DNA methylation tag on the specific genes identified in a number of different neurodegenerative diseases. Being able to see which epigenetic changes cause disease will help in the development of new treatments.

Professor Katie Lunnon, Associate Professor in Epigenetics, at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “I am so grateful for this generous support of our research. These projects will help us advance our understanding of dementia immensely, and ultimately support the development of new treatments that could benefit millions of people worldwide.

“Supporting PhD students in this way also ensures that we are developing the next generation of top dementia researchers, so that we can continue to tackle challenges into the future.”

Date: 25 January 2019

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