Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

World experts jetting in for Alzheimer's summit

Actor Jimmy Nesbitt and his late mother May, who had Alzheimer's.
Actor Jimmy Nesbitt and his late mother May, who had Alzheimer's.

Some of the top medical researchers from around the world have arrived in Northern Ireland for an Alzheimer's conference looking at recent scientific breakthroughs into the devastating disease.

The Alzheimer's Research UK event is the latest coup for Northern Ireland which is fast becoming a leading light in medical research that is helping save lives around the world.

Actor James Nesbitt, whose mother fought a battle with Alzheimer's, is guest speaker at the event and said that medical research holds the key to stopping other families from experiencing the same tragic journey faced by his family.

"Dementia strikes such fear into us, but we can fight it with research," he said.

"We've seen what science can achieve against such great medical foes as tetanus and polio, and the strides forward in treatments for cancer and heart disease. Now we have to get behind the scientists and push for a dementia breakthrough.

"It could be that we fear dementia out of a sense of hopelessness, but there is hope and it rests in the hands of our scientists. With the right backing, we can beat these diseases, but the money is a long way behind – we can all help close the gap."

Alzheimer's Research UK is funding £300,000 of pioneering research in Northern Ireland and the two-day conference will showcase some of the incredible work being done as part of the fight against dementia.

Prof Christian Holscher from the University of Ulster is one of the researchers based in Northern Ireland who will give a speech on his own study that is being developed at Imperial College in London.

A UU team led by Prof Holscher, who is co-ordinator of the Alzheimer's Research UK research network in Northern Ireland, found that a drug designed for diabetes sufferers could have the potential to treat neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

The study examined the drug's effects on mice and found that it promoted cell growth in the hippocampus – an area of the brain known to be involved in memory. A clinical trial, testing whether the drug is also effective in humans, is due to begin in weeks and more than 400 patients are being recruited to take part in the year-long study.

Prof Holscher said: "This research is very exciting and we are very hopeful it will prevent further damage in the brain."

He also explained that using a drug that has already been found to be safe for people means it could become a standard treatment much quicker.

He continued: "We are incredibly proud to host this year's conference in Northern Ireland.

"Last year was a pivotal year for dementia research, from the announcement of new genetic discoveries to the disappointment of failed clinical trials.

"This conference promises some critical discussions about how far we have come, where we are now and how we can work together to make a difference for people with dementia now and in the future.

"There is great optimism and momentum in the field."

What now?

An event to inform the public of the research being undertaken to tackle dementia is taking place to coincide with the UK's largest dementia research conference. The meeting, organised by University of Ulster scientists, is supported by Alzheimer's Research UK. The free public meeting – open to all – is to take place between 4pm and 6pm at the Europa Hotel in Belfast and will feature displays, information and short talks about dementia and the current research under way to tackle the condition. There are currently 15,771 people in Northern Ireland with dementia.

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