Dementia describes a set of symptoms, e.g. memory loss or difficulties with thinking, that arise when the brain is harmed by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease1. With an ageing population, dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, recently overtook heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales, so the research and development of a drug is high on the agenda2. Dr Penny Foulds is the founder of the ‘Defying Dementia’ campaign – a campaign which aims to raise funds to get a potential Alzheimer’s-slowing compound developed at Lancaster University into human clinical trials.
Q: How did your interest in researching dementia and Alzheimer’s disease develop?
A: I did my first degree at Lancaster University and immediately went on to do a PGCE down the road at the University of Cumbria before going on to teach science at the local comprehensive school I actually went to myself – meaning I ended up teaching alongside the teachers who taught me, which was interesting. I taught for around 6 years before both of my grandparents developed Alzheimer’s disease. This instigated my interest in Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases so, after that, I got chatting to one of my old lecturers, Gavin Brown, leading me to leave teaching and pursue a PhD, always thinking I would return to teaching. However, the research was successful, I received funding, stayed on and the rest is history!
Q: Please could you summarise what the Defying Dementia campaign is all about and your motivation for founding it?
A: The drug against Alzheimer’s that has been developed in Professor David Allsop’s lab at Lancaster University was mostly funded by the Alzheimer’s Society. It came to a point where the drug development had come to an end because we had done as much as we could to prove its efficacy in models of the disease but are unable to test it in people. We know it works in a test tube and on cells in cell culture as well as the double transgenic mouse model for Alzheimer’s but cannot currently do any more than that. So the next step is a human clinical trial but, of course, before you can give it to people you have to go through lots of safety tests, for example: is it toxic to the heart cells or the liver; does it cause mutations; how long does it remain in the body; does it all go into the brain or get transported into other organs; do we give 1mg or 5mg; do we administer via an injection or a pill? A lot of factors must be considered and tested so we have to look to funding all of these safety tests. There are not many funding streams that would enable the advancement of a drug from the end of laboratory development to human clinical trials. It is the case that many technologies are lost in this period because the funding cannot be found to make the jump from development to clinical trials, as it costs an awful lot of money.
To cut a long story short, the Defying Dementia campaign was set up to try and raise some funds to get the drug through the aforementioned preclinical tests. We have been going for 2 years (having raised over £110K in this time). The money raised will be used to pay for certain aspects of the safety tests and enable the drug to get into human clinical trials. Interestingly, the Defying Dementia campaign attracted a collaborative partner, MAC Clinical Research Centre based in the North West, who have licensed the drug to take it into human clinical trials when the time comes. They are experts in Alzheimer’s disease and are the UK’s largest company dedicated to recruiting for and running human clinical trials. They were involved in the first drug licensed for Alzheimer’s disease so have been working in this field for a long time and definitely know what they are doing. We are very lucky to be involved in such a partnership!
Q: Do you have any idea of how long it will be until the drug is undergoing human clinical trials?
A: If we got the money today it would probably take around 18 months to 2 years.
Want to get involved? Click here for the official Facebook page and here for the student society at Lancaster University.
- Green, K. and Alzheimer’s Society (2016) What is dementia?Available at: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20007/types_of_dementia/1/what_is_dementia (Accessed: 5 February 2017).
- BBC (2016) Dementia now leading cause of death. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-37972141 (Accessed: 5 February 2017).