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Scientists warn too little is spent on dementia research

Published 21/07/2009

Thirty-one scientists and experts have signed an open letter calling on the Government to end “years of underfunding” in dementia research.

The amount devoted to studying conditions like Alzheimer's disease needs to be tripled or the UK will “pay the price”, it said.

At present, £32m in Government funding is given to help find new treatments and ways of preventing or curing Alzheimer's and other dementias.

The Alzheimer's Research Trust has launched the latest campaign with the backing of the Alzheimer's Society and Parkinson's Disease Society. The letter warns the UK's “key weakness” is lack of funding, not lack of talented scientists.

Published on the day the Government holds a ministerial dementia research summit, it says: “Within a generation, 1.4m people in the UK will live with dementia, costing our economy £50bn per year.

“Yet for every pound spent on dementia care, a fraction of a penny is spent on research into defeating the condition.

“Our key weakness is lack of funding, not lack of talent.

“The Government must use this summit to initiate a national dementia research strategy.

“Most importantly, it must commit to tripling its annual support for dementia research to £96 million within five years.

“If the Government squanders this opportunity, we will all pay the price.”

Signatories include Professor Julie Williams, chief scientific adviser to the Alzheimer's Research Trust, Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, and Dr Kieran Breen, head of research at the Parkinson's Disease Society. Others to add their name include Professor John Hardy, scientific adviser to the Alzheimer's Research Trust, who also works at University College London's Institute of Neurology.

Professor Peter St George-Hyslop, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge and Simon Lovestone, professor of old age psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, have also signed the letter.

Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the hugely popular Discworld books and patron of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: “There's only two ways it can go: researchers, with as much help you can give them, may come up with something that reduces the effects of this dreadful, inhuman disease or we will have to face the consequences of our failure to prevent the final years of many of us being a long bad dream.

“The strain on carers and their support is bad enough now; before very long the effects on the health service and society itself will be unbearable.”

Prof Williams added: “Week after week British dementia scientists come a step closer to understanding what causes dementia, and how this might be translated into new treatments.

“The Government has a great opportunity to use today's summit to formulate a national dementia research strategy.”

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