The Exeter team celebrate at the finish line underneath the Eiffel Tower

Dementia researchers raise thousands for Alzheimer’s Society in epic bike challenge

Five dementia researchers at the University of Exeter have pedalled over an epic 350 miles from London to Paris, raising thousands of pounds for Alzheimer’s Society in a gruelling four day challenge.

The team has raised more than £11,000 towards their £12,000 target to boost the Society’s ground-breaking dementia research, and they still hope to achieve their goal. To donate, visit their Justgiving page.

Throughout the journey the group battled fickle weather conditions, from glorious sunshine, torrential rain and driving wind. All five cyclists endured physical struggles, battling knee, neck and shoulder pain, feeling ‘utterly destroyed’ each evening and ‘barely able to walk in the morning let alone cycle’.

However their toughest obstacle to overcome was missing an initial member of the team – Dr David Llewellyn - who had to withdraw from the challenge after breaking his wrist in training. He now hopes to take part next year.

Professor Andy Randall said: “I think for all of us one of the toughest things was losing David to his training crash, however, the team spirit in our five was great throughout. We all rode all the way, no one even walked up a hill, even as the wind in France was a constant challenge as it seemed to be trying to constantly blow us away from Paris.”

The group of five started early from London, with their route passing through the picturesque Kent countryside, and crossing the Channel at Dover. Their journey continued through Northern France along to the Paris finish line at the iconic Eiffel Tower. Their average cycle time was more than six hours, covering approximately 110 - 160km per day.

Dr Eilis Hannon said: “Personally, I found the first day was the worst, with excruciating knee pain and the toughest terrain up and over the North and South Downs with the time pressure of getting to the ferry. I think most of us really enjoyed the third day which was hilly but exciting scenery and the sun came out – it reminded us of Devon!.”

Dr Francesco Tamagnini said: “I have never done anything so hard. I have met new friends and I have consolidated the bond with the rest of the Exeter crew. I realized I love cycling. And I realized, spending four days and suffering with these guys, what emptiness dementia leaves in your life, even if you are not directly affected by it. Now I know that I will probably have to ride for a lot of miles in the path of scientific research, with my colleagues and friends, to finally find a solution and defeat this dragon. And I know we can make it.”

The Alzheimer's Society annual London to Paris ride saw over 130 cyclists all riding for the same cause. Their route took them across from the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs- Élysées and round the Eiffel tower. The Exeter team, the only dementia researchers to take part, crossed the finish line to strong support and some well-deserved champagne.

Professor Randall added: “The sense of achievement in Paris was fantastic. It was great to meet all the other participants ranging from 16 to around 70 years of age. They were very happy to meet some dementia researchers and also appreciated our efforts in joining the ride.”

Professor Clive Ballard, Executive Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter Medical School, who is a world-leading dementia researcher, said: “Congratulations to the team on this fantastic feat. We’re really proud of their achievements, in making a difference across a broad spectrum of dementia research and in their sterling effort to raise money and awareness for this vital cause.”

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Society said: “We are delighted that the team from the University of Exeter have succeeded in completing their gruelling challenge of cycling from London to Paris. Not only have they already raised a huge amount of money but they are also doing fantastic research to help us understand, treat and ultimately cure dementia. We are very grateful to the team for their fantastic support and hope that they reach their incredible target of raising £12,000 for Alzheimer’s Society. Every pound raised will help to provide information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by dementia.”

All the team has received support from Alzheimer's Society over recent years for their ground-breaking dementia research.

Dr Francesco Tamagnini is a current Alzheimer's Society research fellow; his work involves investigations of brain circuit malfunction caused by a key dementia-associated pathology called tauopathy.

Dr Talitha Kerrigan's research with stem cells is largely supported by an Alzheimer's Society project grant.

Professor Jonathan Mill and Dr Eilis Hannon are internationally regarded for their work into the genomic factors underpinning dementia risk.

Dr David Llewellyn works on lifestyle risk factors in dementia including the role of Vitamin D, and is also working on improving diagnostic methods.

Meanwhile Professor Andy Randall directs Exeter's Alzheimer's Society supported Doctoral Training Centre which is supported by the Garfield Weston foundation. This is currently supporting the PhD training of eight young dementia researchers of the future, and all of the team are involved in supervising one or more of these students.

Alzheimer's Society has recently committed almost £2million to the University of Exeter, as part of its biggest-ever single investment in dementia care research. The funding will be used for a national collaboration led by Exeter to improve both quality of life for people with dementia, and care in advanced dementia.

Read more at http://medicine.exeter.ac.uk/news/articles/dementiaresearchersgearup.html#d2B46t2zhfTHCfg1.99

Date: 26 July 2017

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