We were delighted this week to welcome the team from Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), along with some of their supporters, for a tour of the Mason Laboratory. Led by Professor Jody Mason from the Department of Life Sciences, the lab’s research focuses on the use of peptides in targeting proteins that go wrong in preventing illnesses like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, and various cancers.

Thanks to recent funding from ARUK, Jody and his team have been searching for tiny proteins called peptides, that stop the build-up of toxic proteins in the brain. These harmful protein clumps interfere with normal brain function and can lead to dementia, affecting memory, speech and recognition of people and objects.

Dementia is caused by a variety of different illnesses, affecting different parts of the brain, so every person experiences it differently. While we all might experience forgetfulness every so often, the symptoms of dementia worsen over time, until they affect everyday life.

With families soon getting together to celebrate the festive season, Christmas is often the time when people spot changes in their loved ones. Common signs to look out for include forgetting recent events, names and faces; asking the same questions, often in a short space of time; putting things in the wrong place; and finding it hard to use the right words.

Alzheimer’s Research UK estimates that close to a million people in the UK are living with dementia. And with life expectancy increasing, that number is set to rise. The disease costs the NHS in excess of £23 billion every year, but research into its causes and cure receives just a fifth of that cancer research does.

It’s thanks to Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Major Project Grant that the Mason Lab can carry out its vital study. Professor Mason hopes that the work he and his team are doing will be able to help with the early detection of dementia, perhaps even identifying it decades before symptoms develop.