Currently in the UK, there are 800,000 sufferers of dementia. This debilitating and devastating condition is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms characterised by memory loss, confusion, and difficulty completing even day to day tasks. But for the 670,000 carers of people with dementia, the symptoms add up to something even more sinister: the loss of a loved one.
On top of the statistic of carers, many more of us have also gone through this ordeal with a friend or relative; something that my own family have experienced, as my Grandad passed away this April after a two year decline into Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. The real tragedy of the disease is that there is no cure, and an incomplete understanding of how and why the disease comes about, rendering us helpless as we watch our loved ones slowly degenerate.
Taking this into account, it ignites a spark of hope to know the amount of research currently underway aiming to ‘crack’ dementia- some of which on our own doorstep. Dr Diego Gomez-Nicola, a Marie-Curie Research Fellow at the university, has recently become the latest at the University of Southampton to receive a £496,917 research grant which could significantly impact the understanding and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Specifically, the projects title is ‘Regulation of microglial proliferation and its contribution to chronic neurodegeneration’, but to most of us this translates to the study of the relation of immune-brain communication with the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
Interestingly, although our immune system is normally beneficial for keeping disease at bay, it seems that overactive immune cells might actually have a negative effect on Alzheimer’s. By developing an understanding of how immune cells react with neurodegenerative conditions, this dynamic new research could lead to the development of preventative and therapeutic treatments of conditions such as Parkinsons, Huntingtons and Dementias (of which Alzheimer’s represents about 60-70% of cases). Neurodegenerative diseases, which mostly affect the elderly, primarily affect the neurons in the brain, which can’t regenerate or repair themselves.
Dr Gomez-Nicola joins fellow University academics Professor Clive Holmes and Dr Amrit Mudher, who are also undertaking research projects in the field of Alzheiemer’s. These pioneering projects join with 44 others, to make up the front line of Alzheimer’s research, paving the way for greater understanding and treatment.
Whilst the memories of those already gone become sacred and untainted, many future families will also face the struggle of watching a family member delve into the void of memory loss and debilitation. Although no cure currently exists, it’s the individual advancements of scientists like Dr Gomez-Nicola which could one day add up to make a big difference.
Even if you’re not a scientist, you can still get involved with the fight with the Alzheimer’s Society.