A Global Scourge
More than 44 million people around the globe currently suffer from one or more forms of dementia. Over 850,000 of them live in the United Kingdom (UK) at an annual care cost of £26 billion ($38 billon USD). Unless something is done, experts predict those numbers will likely double within the next 20 years. 1
To address the urgent need for new therapies, the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC), a national public agency supporting health science and research, established the Dementias Platform United Kingdom (DPUK) in 2014. Referred to as the “Platform,” DPUK is now the world’s largest collaborative research organization focused on early detection, better treatment, and prevention of neurodegenerative conditions in over 2 million participants drawn from the general population as well as individuals known to be at risk or already diagnosed with early-stage dementias.
Wait a minute, “dementias”? That’s right, the MRC says. Dementias include a wide spectrum of neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Motor Neurone diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. 2
Holistic Approach to Dementia
Taken together, the MRC believed these conditions required a more comprehensive and novel approach in search of eventual cures. That led to the creation of the Dementias Platform. Beyond the sheer breath of patients involved, the project encompasses leading scientists from seven universities (Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Newcastle, University College London, and Swansea), non-profit associations, and various companies within the clinical research industry. All are committed to studying dementia in its range of varieties from a novel perspective—the context of the whole body rather than just the brain. 3
“Analysing whole-body data on such large numbers of people will give us enormous statistical power to study what happens to our bodies as we age and enter the early stages of neurodegenerative disease,” says Dr. John Gallacher, Director of DPUK. “Our aims are to discover and detect dementia earlier in the belief that the earlier we can detect it the more we can do to translate this scientific knowledge into new interventions and therapies that could one day prevent or delay dementia and lead to a better quality of life in older age.” 4
To do that, Dr. Gallacher says that researchers need to identify new biomarkers that recognize the beginnings of neurological changes as well as identify those changes throughout the course of the disease. “By identifying these biomarkers, we can get a handle on the mechanisms of the disease that will lead to new treatments,” he says. By repurposing existing translational drugs and developing new treatments as the study evolves, researchers believe they will be able to eventually delay the onset of neurodegenerative conditions.
“The value of delaying dementia is quite substantial,” Dr. Gallacher says. “If we delay its onset on average by five years, we can halve the number of people who die from dementia. I believe that is a goal worth pursuing.” 5
Instruments of Change
To achieve that goal, the Dementia Platform’s focus on the whole body involves studying the disease from many points of view -- from lifestyle age, and cognitive function, to genetics, cell biology and phenotypic screening.
In that last-mentioned area, the DPUK recently launched three national networks for screening, informatics, and cell biology that significantly bolster its research capacity into the dementias. Central to these new centers is a suite of PerkinElmer instruments at each of the labs. These include the Opera Phenix™ high-content screening system; Harmony® imaging and analysis software; Columbus™ image data storage and analysis system; and the cell::explorer® workstation, which enables high-content and high-throughput cell screening.
“We are intent on developing a one-stop-shop portal for global researchers,” Dr. Gallacher says, who notes that the new imaging and analytical capabilities will go a long way in accelerating the Platform’s ultimate goal of a cure for dementia.
PerkinElmer instruments are for research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.
- Medical Research Council, “Spotlight on: Neurodegenerative diseases: dementia,” Medical Research Council Research Spotlights.
- Dr. John Gallacher, “MRC Dementias Research Platform UK (DPUK).”