Dr Vasanta Subramanian from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry has been awarded nearly £50,000 to study how a species of African fish can help scientists develop treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is one of 15 new projects being funded to the tune of £2 million by Alzheimer’s Research UK. This new funding is announced today to coincide with Dementia Action Week (Monday 16–20 May), during which Alzheimer’s Research UK is encouraging the public to join forces to support vital dementia research.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for roughly 60% of all cases. However, there’s still no treatment available in the UK to stop Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia.

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s is the toxic build-up of a protein called amyloid, which begins to clump together in the brain up to 20 years before symptoms appear. To better understand how the disease starts and progresses, researchers use a variety of lab-based experimental methods.

Dr Subramanian’s pilot project, titled “Developing the African Turquoise killifish (N. furzeri) as a model for Alzheimer’s Disease” will study genetic changes in the African turquoise killifish, with a view to better understanding amyloid build-up in humans with Alzheimer’s. As these small fish only live for four to six months, they can be studied in a relatively short period of time by researchers investigating age-related disorders.

In this new work, Dr Subramanian and her team will use genetic engineering tools to monitor and detect levels of proteins like amyloid in the fish. Being able to detect and track how amyloid builds up in ageing killifish should give the researchers a better sense of how the human disease progresses with age.

Speaking about her project, Dr Subramanian said: “Dementia is our greatest long-term medical challenge. Around 57-million people are already living with this devastating condition around the world, but with that number set to almost triple by 2050, we need to see concerted global action now to transform the prospects for the next generation.

“Improved research tools are an important part of the puzzle in helping get us to a cure or a life-changing treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s. Animal models have been shown to be effective in other areas of work like cancer and heart disease, and we need to use a range of tools to combat diseases like Alzheimer's and frontotemporal dementia that attack the brain.

“The killifish has the potential to be a useful asset and we will develop this for the benefit of the whole dementia research field.”

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Dementia affects nearly one million people in the UK. The condition is not an inevitable part of getting older but the result of diseases that damage the brain. Research at the University of Bath will help us to understand how diseases like Alzheimer’s progress as we age.

“The ageing process in African killifish is like a human’s in many ways. The killifish’s short lifespan should allow researchers to gather high quality experimental data even quicker. Animal models for diseases like Alzheimer’s play a crucial role in research, forming the stepping stone between initial ideas and identifying and testing possible ways to treat these diseases.”

Dr Sancho added: “This Dementia Action Week, it’s not only researchers that can make a difference when it comes to dementia research. We urgently need people living with the condition and also healthy volunteers to sign up to take part in vital research studies.”

To register interest and join dementia research, contact Alzheimer’s Research UK: infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org