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News from the Oxford Alzheimer's Research UK Network

Network members at the Oxford Drug Discovery Institute raising funds for ARUK

In the next few months, two of ARUK ODDI researchers, Stephen Wren and Francesca Nicholls, are taking part in races and raising money for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Stephen is running the Abingdon Marathon in October, to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK. This is Stephen’s 5th marathon  and if you would like to support his efforts, please visit his donations page.

Francesca has signed up for Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Race The Tide. She will walk 100km in 24 hours along St Cuthbert’s Way, racing to finish before the tide comes in and blocks off the causeway to the Holy Island of Lidisfarne. To support Francesca’s efforts by sponsoring her race via her Just Giving page, please click here.

Francesca Nicholls becomes new ARUK Oxford Early Career Network Representative

Mark&FranFrancesca started at Oxford in 2015, and works in Simon Lovestone and Daniel Ebner’s labs on complex in vitro models for screening in Alzheimer’s Disease, using high content imaging. At her first ECR event, she met a fellow researcher who then became a collaborator on her very first grant application. So when the ECR representative position came up, she was keen to help provide the same opportunity to others. She also collaborates with pharma as part of her project, and is hoping to introduce mixed industry/academia events to foster collaboration and also to provide the opportunity to make useful connections, particularly for those who may not want to continue in academia. If you have any questions, or suggestions for future events, please don’t hesitate to contact her:

ARUK Oxford Early Career Network Members present at Pint of Science

Pint2016TalkTwo ARUK Early Career Network members presented their research to a sell-out crowd as part of Pint of Science Oxford. Pint of Science brings scientists to discuss their latest research with the public and is a great way to engage with people about your research. Cecilia Lee and Jacqueline Robbins, both PhD students, discussed their PhD work looking at modelling neurodegenerative diseases through the use of induced pluripotent stem cells.

Pint2016BeerMatJacqueline said afterwards ‘I love the mission of Pint of Science and so I was really excited to get this opportunity to tell people about my research and the work that’s going on in the UK to fight Alzheimer’s disease. It was a great experience to talk to a broad audience and the Q+A session was really interesting. I would definitely be keen to be part of public engagement events in the future.’ She even got an invitation to an ARUK Yoga event, so it shows that you never what might come of these events but it’s a worthwhile experience.

Prof. Clare Mackay named Open Science Champion for Dementias Platform UK

Clare MacKayAssociate Professor Clare Mackay, Oxford University, will be the Open Science Champion for Dementias Platform UK.

Prof. Clare Mackay explains, “As a translational scientist I recognise that open science is vital for improving robustness, reducing costs and accelerating translation in our field. I am energised by the multifaceted challenge of creating an open science community. I look forward to working with the DPUK Steering Committee to develop our strategy to both contribute to, and benefit from, new ways of working together, and ultimately to break down the barriers that slow progress to improve the lives of those who are affected by dementia."

blood-based proteomic biomarkers for alzheimer's

Blood sampleNew review published in Frontiers in Neurology by Alison Baird et al. from the Lovestone Lab.

Dementia is a huge public health priority and has a significant social and economic impact. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which is characterised by multiple cognitive deficits. Alzheimer's disease has a gradual onset with a mean duration of approximately 8.5 years from the onset of clinical symptoms to the death of the patient. Clinical trials to investigate potential new therapeutics have mostly involved patients with clinically manifest dementia, and have had limited success to date.

Early stages of the disease are now being targeted, but this is challenging as it is difficult to detect Alzheimer's at this stage. Biological markers (biomarkers) for Alzheimer's are being investigated as they represent an early indication of disease presence. One way to investigate biomarkers is by investigating proteins in the blood. Taking blood samples is minimally invasive and is therefore an ideal way to look for biomarkers in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

This review examines the current literature regarding blood-based protein biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease.

Read the full paper here

academic career development workshop

Alzheimer's research uk co-hosted an Academic Career Development Workshop jointly with the Society of Biology

Career Development Workshop

 "Get strategic about your research career" was a 1 day workshop held by ARUK and The Society of Biology on Friday 6th November 2015. Aimed at post-doctoral researchers, the course explored how current skill-sets (both in and out of the lab) can be used to the advantage of the individual for career progression. For instance, how researchers can successfully prepare themselves for big picture trends that are shaping future research, and what type of attitudes/personalities are most suited to different research careers.

Feedback from Oxford ARUK Network members showed that the workshop was incredibly helpful, because it made people 'think outside the box': what do you enjoy about your job, what motivates you, and what do you dislike? By talking a step back and thinking about these important (and often overlooked) factors, network members reported that they left the workshop encouraged that they are in the right job and have a better idea of how to progress their research careers. 

 Dr Ruth Faram, an Early Career Researcher within our Network recently attended the ARUK supported Career Development Session in London. Here’s why she went and what she thought of the course…….

“I am a post-doctoral research scientist in the Wade-Martins laboratory, University of Oxford. I completed my PhD in Anatomical  Neuropharmacology in 2013, after which I completed a short post doc in the Department of Pharmacology, Oxford, and then moved to my current position in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics where I am investigating the molecular interaction between Amyloid Beta and Tau proteins in Alzheimer’s Disease.

The natural progression from PhD to a post-doctoral position seemed like an obvious transition at the time, owing to my passion for scientific research. However – knowing that I may not want to be a group leader myself – I have always remained in touch with career and outreach events. I am currently funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, and was invited to a special ‘careers’ workshop that was held in collaboration with the Society of Biology.  I attended the course hoping that it was an opportunity to network and to discuss career prospects with other research scientists, and it was exactly that. The course gave us personalised advice on our research experiences and how they might be applied as translational skills, with great advice on CV construction from the course leader who was an ambassador for the Society of Biology. Most importantly for me personally as an academic, the workshop covered how our scientific personality might influence the role we take in a laboratory environment, and how we should focus on the skills that we have acquired, reminding every participant of their important role in the scientific field no matter what their background. This was an eye opener as an early career researcher – not only because it’s easy to get bogged down in the minor experiment detail – but it also highlighted a few problems that some participants had, such as looking at the ‘bigger picture’ and how each post-doctoral position can enhance the translational skillset rather than just being another job. The transient nature of most academic research positions is, and may remain to be, a problem for early career scientists, but this career workshop was reassuring and gave the rare opportunity to dissect your own personal career ladder based on experiences. I highly recommend this workshop to anyone who might be curious about other scientific career options, or who may be unsure what their next career step may be. I found it reassuring to see that most people have similar concerns, and by discussing alternative career options I actually realised that I am currently in the perfect job for me!”

Oxford Early Career network launched at Oxford Dementia Research day 2015

ECR LaunchMark Dallas and Jess Ash

Oxford ARUK Early Career Network representatives Mark Dallas and Jessica Ash launched the network for those early on in the career at the 2015. Oxford Dementia Day.  Following an introduction to the network during the day Jess and Mark hosted a networking session at the event.

They are keen to hear what would be helpful for those starting out in dementia research and can be contacted via

Young Investigator of the Year Award

ARUK have launched a new Award to celebrate excellence in dementia research. The Alzheimer’s Research UK Young Investigator of the Year Award, worth £25,000 in research expenses, will be presented each year to the most outstanding early career researcher in the field of biomedical dementia research.

The Award will be judged by an external panel of prominent international researchers, who will be looking for excellence in scientific research and a significant contribution to the field. Applicants will also be judged on science writing quality, as assessed through a 1,000 word essay. The closing date is 5 pm on 30 September 2015 (GMT). ARUK will notify the winner by early December 2015. Learn more via the ARUK website.

Dementia Question Time: How are researchers tackling the dementia time-bomb?

Reading University, March 2015

Dementia Question TimeIs there a link between vitamin B12 deficiency and dementia? Are the increasing incidences of dementia associated with the digital revolution? These and other questions were posed to a panel of experts by the public during a dementia Question Time event at the University of Reading in March 2015.

Reading University researchers Dr Mark Dallas, Dr Angela Bithell, from the School of Pharmacy, and Dr Carien van Reekum, from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, were on the panel along with Dr Emma O'Brien from Alzheimer's Research UK.

Joining them were Jamie Anderson, son of legendary Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson who had Alzheimer's Disease, and Marianne Talbot, author of 'Keeping Mum' which describes her journey through caring for a family member with dementia.

The panellists took questions from an audience of people from a wide variety of ages who are affected in some way by the disease. Reading scientists discussed their cutting-edge research and the challenges in developing novel treatments to combat Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Mark Dallas said: "We were delighted to host this public event. Dementia, which Prime Minister David Cameron has called a 'ticking time-bomb', affects over 3,400 people in Reading and South Oxfordshire alone. This question and answer session was a great opportunity for the community to learn more about the latest efforts to better understand the diseases that cause dementia. Many thanks to those who attended and to Jamie and Marianne for joining the panel."

The event was sponsored by the Alzheimer's Research UK Oxford Network Centre. Alzheimer's Research UK is the UK's leading dementia research charity, which funds research into dementia causes, diagnosis, preventions and treatments. They are currently funding more than £26m of dementia research across the UK including projects at the Universities of Oxford and Reading.

Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, discovers Reading University’s pioneering dementia research

ARUK Reading Visit

Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, discovered how the University of Reading is leading the fight against dementia on a recent visit to the Whiteknights Campus.

During the visit, organised by Alzheimer's Research UK, the UK's leading dementia research charity, the MP saw the breadth of Reading's work in tackling the devastating condition and learnt how a £100,000 funding boost from the charity is helping foster its research efforts.

Mr Wilson also visited the University's Berkshire Memory & Cognition Research Centre (BMCRC), which  aims to improve the detection and prevention of dementia, as well as support those affected by the condition. He also heard from researchers who are studying how nutrition affects thinking and memory, and saw some of the University's sophisticated brain scanning equipment at work.

Mr Wilson said: “It was fantastic to see the innovative research taking place at Reading University. It is a source of immense pride, both as the local MP and as an alumni of the university that Reading University is at the forefront of this fight. Dementia affects many thousands of people across the country and the inspirational work that is taking place to combat the disease is vital and could provide comfort to many families in future. I thank all of the research team for their hard work.”

ARUKReadingMPvisitDementia researchers at the University are also linked with academics at the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University through Alzheimer's Research UK's Oxford Research Network Centre, which has recently been given a two-year funding boost of £100,000. As one of 15 national hubs for the charity's Research Network, this centre of excellence brings together scientists from a variety of disciplines, allowing them to pool their expertise and share ideas and resources.

Dr Mark Dallas, Lecturer in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Reading's School of Pharmacy, spoke to Mr Wilson on his tour about recently published findings suggesting a possible protective role for carbon monoxide in Alzheimer's.

Dr Dallas said: "We were delighted to welcome Mr Wilson to the University. Reading is undertaking cutting-edge research to combat the diseases that cause dementia. However diseases like Alzheimer's are multi-faceted and to fight them effectively we need to tackle the challenge from many different angles.


"Collaboration is key and at Reading we have built links between a range of disciplines, from scientists working in the lab to clinical researchers who work with patients. The Alzheimer's Research UK network plays an important role in helping to foster this collaborative spirit."


Study suggests carbon monoxide may protect cells from Alzheimer’s damage

markARUK Oxford's Mark Dallas, now based at the University of Reading, is co-author on a new study which found that carbon monoxide found naturally in our bodies could help protect against damage from Alzheimer’s proteins. Although fatal to people in large quantities, the study shows that the small amount of the gas present in our bodies may protect against the effects of the amyloid protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The research was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society with support from The Henry Smith Charity, and is published in the journal Cell Death and Disease (click here for article).


Previous research has shown that people with Alzheimer’s have increased amounts of carbon monoxide in the brain, but it’s unclear whether this increase is a cause of damage or a result of disease processes. The researchers set out to understand what role carbon monoxide might play in the disease.

The team used nerve cells in a dish to test the effects of the toxic amyloid protein – a hallmark Alzheimer’s protein that builds in the brain and forms sticky clumps around nerve cells – and carbon monoxide. Initial results showed that when amyloid was added to the cells, around half of the cells died. However, when carbon monoxide was added, far fewer of the cells died, suggesting that the gas was able to prevent some of the damage caused by amyloid.

Study co-author Dr Mark Dallas, who is now based at the University of Reading, said: “Although carbon monoxide is largely seen as a toxic gas, our cells contain the machinery to produce it at more manageable levels, and it plays an important role within the body. Our study builds on a body of work linking carbon monoxide to Alzheimer’s, and suggests that the increased amounts we see in people with the disease may be a result of a mechanism the brain uses to protect itself. We still need to fully understand carbon monoxide’s role in Alzheimer’s, but we hope this study will provide a new lead in the search for new treatments.”

To read more about this research see the ARUK website.


Diary of an Alzheimer's sufferer - Sunday times magazine

On 1st Nov 2014, the Times Magazine  featured an article written by Valerie Blumenthal and her experience of being diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy (a rare presentation of Alzheimer's disease). She is helping with an ARUK research project in Oxford being run by Dr Chris Butler and Dr Samrah Ahmed to learn more about PCA.

Link to the article:

Valerie Blumenthal

Alzheimer’s Research UK doubles its investment in dementia research through the Oxford Research Network Centre.

Oxford ARUK network researchers will benefit from £100,000 of investment over two years, with continued support pledged for the coming years. The investment is part of the charity’s £100m Defeat Dementia fundraising campaign, announced in June by the Prime Minister.

Nearly 8,000 people in Oxfordshire are living with dementia and the Alzheimer’s Research UK Network has been building since 1998 aiming to tackle this challenge, support scientists to ultimately find a cure for the condition.

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“We will not find a cure for dementia by working in isolation. Investment in our Research Network is essential to bring scientists together to share ideas and resources. Supporting grass-roots research is crucial to lay strong foundations for larger studies and we are pleased to be able to invest in people and ideas that could provide the breakthrough moments we are all desperate for."

Dr Richard Wade-Martins, Associate Professor at the University of Oxford and Co-ordinator of the Oxford Research Network Centre, spoke to BBC Oxford news about the increased funding.

“It is fantastic that Alzheimer’s Research UK has decided to increase its investment in research in this region. The Oxford Network Centre is an incredibly important resource for dementia researchers, being unique in its ability to link dementia scientists not just in their home institutions but around the country."

Marianne Talbot, from Oxford, cared for both of her parents during their struggle with dementia. She said:

“Following my father’s death with vascular dementia, my darling mum had a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She lived with me for five years and, without any training or preparation, I found myself caring for her as her mind fragmented. Watching her deteriorate was one of the saddest things I have ever done. She died in 2009, aged 89. I would love to see new treatments that could stop others going through the same thing. I’m delighted to hear that more funding is being made available for Alzheimer’s Research UK’s research experts here in Oxford.”

Significant step towards blood test for Alzheimer's

Researchers at Oxford Alzheimer’s Research UK have announced a panel of 10 proteins that could form a blood test to predict those most likely to develop Alzheimer’s. The research is the result of an international collaboration involving Proteome Sciences and funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the MRC and NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre. The study was published on 8 July in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Simon Lovestone Professor Simon Lovestone, senior author of the study from the University of Oxford, said: “Alzheimer’s begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed with the disease. Many of our drug trials fail because by the time patients are given the drugs, the brain has already been too severely affected.  A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease. The next step will be to validate our findings in further sample sets, to see if we can improve accuracy and reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, and to develop a reliable test suitable to be used by doctors.”

More about this story on BBC News

Hear Simon Lovestone on the Today Programme

Inside Alzheimer's

Naked Scientist Podcast

Oxford ARUK coordinator Richard Wade-Martins was featured on the Naked Scientist podcast, Inside Alzheimers.

Questions addressed in the programme included: How are memories formed and lost? Is Alzheimer’s just an extreme version of normal ageing? And to what extent does genetics play a role? Can we protect ourselves from developing the disease? We get our head around the disease with this special podcast sponsored by Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The podcast is available to hear here: The Naked Neuroscientist