Alzheimer's study at Queen's boosted by £228,000 grant

October 09, 2008

A Queen's University Belfast academic has been awarded £228,000 to further his research into how Alzheimer's disease progresses.

Dr Stephen Todd who works in the Department of Geriatric Medicine at Queen's, has been announced as the only Beeson Ireland 2008 scholar after a transatlantic panel peer-reviewed his proposal.

The Beeson Award is the highest international accolade in Geriatric Medicine and is made to high calibre individuals seeking to advance research into ageing and medicine for older people.

The funding is being provided by the American Foundation for Aging Research (AFAR) and the Atlantic Philanthropies.

The grant will allow him to continue research showing that an enzyme called beta-secretase had higher levels of activity in patients with Alzheimer's compared with older people without the disease.

According to the Alzheimer's Society there are 700,000 people with dementia in the UK with numbers set to rise to one million by 2025.

Dr Todd's award will be used for a three year project entitled Investigation of Platelet beta-secretase Activity in Alzheimer's Disease.

Dr Todd, who graduated from Queen's in July with an MD, explained: "The grant involves retesting as many as possible of 400 previous volunteers five years after their initial test.

"We hope to determine if the initial level of beta-secretase activity influenced how the disease progressed over that time, or for people who had no memory problems initially, if it predicts subsequent development of memory problems.

"This could be helpful to doctors in the future who may be able to advise patients and their relatives with greater accuracy how their disease will progress."

Beta-secretase is a key molecule in forming plaques which are thought to be crucial in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

To measure the activity of beta-secretase in special blood cells called platelets, Dr Todd will use a method devised by Dr Janet Johnston and colleagues in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's.

This is more convenient for patients than obtaining brain samples or samples of Cerebrospinal fluid - the substance that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

The funding will also enable the team to examine beta-secretase activity in people just newly diagnosed with Alzheimer's who are about to start being treated with a dementia drug.

The team aims to determine if the level of the enzyme can predict response to the drugs. About 150 people will be recruited for this part of the study.

Last year Dr Todd's Queen's colleague Dr Bernadette McGuinness was the first person to win the Beeson scholarship when the award was made for the first time outside the United States.

In order to receive the Beeson Award candidates must have the support of a team in an institution recognised as having a commitment to ageing research and teaching.

Dr Peter Passmore, Professor of Geriatric Medicine at Queen's, said: "I am delighted that Dr Todd has achieved a Beeson Award. This is the highest international accolade in Geriatric Medicine.

"It will enable him to develop his career in Academic Geriatric Medicine and significantly complement the work of the first Beeson Scholar, Dr McGuinness, as well as the existing programme in dementia studies here.

"The Beeson Awards have greatly enhanced the interaction between Queen's University and centres in the USA and have added to the growing international reputation of dementia research in Northern Ireland."

Queen's University Belfast

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