Dementia and neurodegenerative disorders

As the population ages, we are likely to see more and more patients developing chronic (long-lasting) degenerative brain diseases that lead to dementia and major physical disability.

Researchers in Cambridge are working together to carry out research on the following conditions:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • FrontoTemporal Dementia
  • Other rarer disorders

These conditions share one thing in common – they all have a slow loss of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. We want to find out why this is happening and which brain cells are involved.

In the short term we want to understand:

  • Why patients with the same disease progress (get worse) at different rates
  • How we can identify different groups of patients (‘subsets’) with the same disease – including looking at genetic variations in their make-up
  • How we can study cells from patients to see what fundamentally goes wrong in their bodies for them to develop their condition in the first place
  • How we can use this genetic information to develop new therapies (treatments)
  • If modifying or developing new treatments for each subset of patients improves their health or quality of life.

We believe this approach may help to identify new drugs for these types of diseases – and also help with new treatments to improve patients’ quality of life, especially in areas that haven’t really been explored by researchers, such as sleep problems.

In the medium term we want to:

  • Identify ‘biomarkers’ in patients – these are molecules found in the body that can act as a sign of disease, or of something abnormal going on in the body
  • Use biomarkers to assess how well the body responds to treatment.

They may also lead us to diagnose before patients develop obvious disease – and even stop the disease from developing in the first place!

We also want to develop new experimental therapies for patients, including:

  • Trying drugs that are known to be safe in humans because they are already used for patients with other diseases, to see if they help patients with dementia and neurodegenerative disorders. This is known as drug repurposing.
  • Developing new small molecules and drugs that have never been tried in humans before but which researchers know are safe for humans because they have carried out the necessary pre-clinical (or laboratory) studies.
  • Therapies to replace faulty genes, cells and immune systems.

Watch a one minute video of Professor Roger Barker talking about the dementia and neurodegenerative disorders research