A major research project into the role of iron in dementia with Lewy bodies is getting underway at the University, thanks to grants worth £220,500 from two charities dedicated to funding dementia research. Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, and local Alzheimer’s research charity BRACE have teamed up to fund a unique three-year project that could bring new understanding of the disease.
Led by Professor David Brown, the scientists from our Department of Biology & Biochemistry will study a protein called alpha-synuclein, which accumulates in the brain in dementia with Lewy bodies, as well as other diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Dementia with Lewy bodies is the third most common cause of dementia, affecting about 100,000 people in the UK. People with the disease experience distressing symptoms such as hallucinations, problems with movement similar to Parkinson’s disease and ‘cognitive fluctuations’ – variations in alertness, attention and thinking skills.
Until recently, the normal role of alpha-synuclein has been poorly understood, but Professor Brown and his team have discovered that the protein helps convert iron into a form that can be used by cells. Cells need a certain amount of iron to function properly, and the scientists believe that alpha-synuclein’s normal activity may help protect brain cells. They now want to find out what happens to this activity when the protein begins to accumulate.
One theory suggests that as the protein builds in the brain, it may stop working properly, leading to a lack of iron that can be used by cells. Alternatively, as the amount of alpha-synuclein increases, its activity may also increase, leading to a surplus of iron in the brain. By finding the answers to these important questions, the scientists hope to gain new insight into the chain of events that causes cell death in dementia with Lewy bodies.
Professor Brown said: “We’re extremely pleased to have secured this funding, which will allow us to gain a much better understanding of some of the processes that occur as alpha-synuclein builds in the brain. Discovering this protein’s normal role was a crucial step forward, but this funding will enable us to investigate what goes wrong in this process. If we can understand what goes wrong in cells as diseases like dementia with Lewy bodies take hold, we stand a much better chance of finding ways to stop those diseases in their tracks.”
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting this important project, which could bring us vital new information about a disease that has so far been under-researched. This study could greatly enhance our understanding of the causes of dementia with Lewy bodies, potentially giving us new clues for the development of treatments that could really benefit people.
“It’s especially pleasing to be able to work with such a well-regarded local charity to fund this project, and we hope this partnership could help us make real progress towards our common goal of defeating dementia. With more than 2,000 people affected by dementia in Bath and North East Somerset alone, there is an urgent need for research projects like this one.”
Mark Poarch, Chief Executive of BRACE said: “It’s wonderful to be able to partner Alzheimer’s Research UK and to fund this vital work at the University of Bath. Some of the most ground-breaking research into dementia is being undertaken here in the South West. BRACE is proud to be helping some of the brightest minds in medical research beat this terrible disease.”
Listen to Professor Brown being interviewed by BBC Radio Bristol:
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