THE GW4 AGING AND DEMENTIA (GW4AD) CONSORTIUM

INITIATOR FUND 

Project period: October 2014 – January 2015 

This community later received Accelerator Funding for the project: Harnessing CRISPR/Cas9 Technology to Develop New Models of Alzheimer’s Disease

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Roy Jones, Robert Williams 
University of Bristol: Patrick Kehoe, Seth Love 
Cardiff University: Mike Owen, Julie Williams, Nigel Williams, John Gallacher 
University of Exeter: Katie Lunnon (PI), Jonathan Mill, David Llewellyn, Iain Lang 

Project overview

The community aimed to bring together dementia researchers and practitioners across the four GW4 sites, building upon our individual strengths and enabling us to produce a joint strategy for future research and to identify synergies that will maximize chances of securing future funding.  

Background 

In the UK ~670,000 people have dementia, with care costs in excess of £23billion/year. Due to an aging population, both prevalence and cost will continue to rise until more effective strategies for prevention, treatment and earlier diagnosis are developed. Research will be central to achieving this, and dementia research is a key focus in the South West: three of the 15 Alzheimer’s Research UK Network Centres (Cardiff, Exeter/Plymouth, Bristol/Bath) are located in this region. Within each GW4 partner there is a critical mass of dementia research being undertaken, encompassing the entire research spectrum from applied clinical and population-based studies through to investigation of basic cellular and molecular mechanisms. 

A central goal of the consortium was to identify shared interests and determine the feasibility of establishing a novel population-based dementia cohort across the South West that will enable ground-breaking integrative clinical, epidemiological, and molecular genomics research. Such studies are critical for the identification of new biomarkers and will provide insight into the biological mechanisms involved in neuropathology, but rely on the availability of high quality biological samples from prospective cohort studies. The systematic collection of standardised clinical measures and enrolment for brain donation into the Brains for Dementia Research (BDR) initiative at postmortem (http://www.brainsfordementiaresearch.org.uk/) would maximise the utility of research cohorts. Several such cohorts are established in the UK, but despite the unique age demographic in the South West, only one longitudinal cohort exists, based in Cardiff. The consortium will assess the feasibility of establishing a broader GW4 Ageing and Dementia (GW4AD) cohort, benefitting researchers in all locations. 

Project summary 

Initiator funding was used to host a two-day meeting, involving clinicians, basic biomedical scientists and applied scientists, and major dementia charities. Funding for the meeting was also received from Alzheimer’s research UK, Alzheimer’s Society and BRACE. The meeting allowed the community to network, share knowledge and discuss regional resources such as a brain bank, regional cohorts and clinical trials. Researchers formed breakout groups to discuss current work and future grant ideas with collaboration across GW4. Several of these groups went on to apply for further funding, including one which received accelerator funding to explore new models of Alzheimer’s disease.