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Researchers in our Department are embarking on a £50,000 study to develop treatments for dementia. The funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK will kick off new drug discovery efforts that specifically target dementia with Lewy bodies.

A cortical section with synuclein aggregates
A cortical section with synuclein aggregates

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is the third largest cause of dementia in the UK. As well as more common dementia symptoms, such as memory loss and thinking problems, people with DLB often experience specific symptoms including visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances and movement difficulties.

We want to test new experimental drugs on brain cells that have been created in the lab from skin cells. This process uses a Nobel-prize winning stem cell technique that is transforming our ability to study human nerve cells in detail in the laboratory. This new funding will allow us to ‘shortlist’ drugs that hold potential for tackling DLB –  important groundwork to ignite drug discovery efforts for the disease.
- Dr George Tofaris

These symptoms arise due to the build-up of a protein called alpha-synuclein into toxic clumps, which accumulate in the brain and damage nerve cells. While some of the memory problems can be managed to an extent with current symptomatic treatments used for Alzheimer’s, the more unique symptoms remain untackled and there are no treatments that slow or halt the disease itself.

Dr George Tofaris, Associate Professor of Neurology, will meet this challenge head-on, by searching for new drugs that could kick-start the destruction of alpha-synuclein. Using innovative techniques to study nerve cells in the laboratory, the team will test a large number of possible drugs that stimulate the cell’s waste disposal process – critical for keeping alpha-synuclein levels in check. This early-phase drug discovery project will zero in on drugs that are safe and can reduce alpha-synuclein levels in nerve cells. These initial steps are critical in the hunt for treatments in the clinic.

Read more about Alzheimer's Research UK

Read more about George Tofaris and his work

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