Dementia diagnosis boost as Manchester Uni researchers get £24m cash injection

A £24million government cash boost has been handed to Manchester University to beat dementia – allowing scientists to identify signs of the condition quicker than ever before.

The funding will help improve clinical sample testing and understanding of basic cell biology, George Osborne announced yesterday.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has green-lit a total package of £150million to support innovation in clinical research across three areas – stratified medicine, dementia and single cell function genomics.

Manchester is involved in three areas of the new scheme, overseen by the Medical Research Council (MRC), and also receives the largest individual award of £13million to set up a Clinical Proteomics Centre.

Professor Ian Jacobs, Vice-President and Dean of the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, said: “These awards reflect the breadth of expertise within the university and the way we have organised our research effort to best take advantage of them.

“They will allow our researchers to work on new solutions to some of the biggest health and medical problems in outstanding research facilities.”

This new facility will be able to measure many proteins within a sample – such as blood, urine, or from tissue such as a tumour biopsy – in a single step, streamlining the current process.

These techniques will allow clinical researchers to see the differences between samples from, for example, healthy people and people with a specific disease – giving opportunities for earlier treatment and better understanding of who will respond to specific drugs.

In addition, measuring the effects of these drugs will, in the future, help patients by reducing side effects and making it more likely that a patient will benefit from a particular treatment.

This will have huge benefits for sufferers of diseases like psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, for example, and for economic use of medicines.

The lack of detailed understanding about their similarities and differences has been a huge barrier for scientists to overcome when designing of therapies that need to target particular cells within the body.

The MRC award will put in place a pipeline from sample collection, through to identification and characterisation of single target cells within each sample, to the design of treatments that target these specific cells.

Researchers will focus on characterising a group of rare cells (called circulating tumour cells or CTCs) that give rise to drug-resistant cancers such as certain lung cancers.

Scientists will also look at specific stem cells that can enable the regeneration of damaged tissues such as muscle, joints, skin and blood vessels.

Speaking of the awards, Chancellor Osborne said: “The funding will go to 23 truly innovative projects from across the UK today that represent the best of British ingenuity and scientific exploration.

“The Government, charities, universities and industry will be working together to advance our knowledge in combatting the biggest medical challenges of our time.”

A further £6million of capital funding has been awarded to Manchester as part of the UK Dementia Platform (UKDP) – a radically new approach to dementia research.

A network of PET/MR scanning facilities will be created across the UK (one in Manchester) to enable studies on the molecular processes in the brain that cause dementia.

The UKDP will also revolutionise how different types of data are gathered and optimise how researchers and clinicians use them.

Manchester will specifically manage projects on physical activity monitoring and in the field of stem cells.

The network will take cells from adults with and without dementia to find out how they change as the dementia process begins and progresses.

A further £5million will set up the Manchester Single Cell Research Centre (SCRC) in the third award.

Image courtesy of Erik Soderstrom, with thanks.

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