The Cambridge scientists who dominated the 2019 Alzheimer's Research UK awards
Cambridge scientists dominated the awards handed out at Alzheimer’s Research UK’s 2019 research conference.
Five researchers in the region won prizes for their work in helping us to understand and fight dementia.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading charity funder of dementia research, and the largest fundraising charity based in Cambridgeshire.
It has invested more than £21million in the region, including the pioneering ALBORADA Drug Discovery Institute, since awarding its first grant in 1998.
Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK with over 8,000 in Cambridgeshire alone. These numbers are set to rise, so we desperately need to see more research to take us closer towards new ways to help people with dementia.
“It’s fantastic to see talented young researchers in Cambridge taking on our greatest medical challenge and producing such high-quality research. Cambridge is a hotbed of science making it an excellent place to carry out cutting-edge research. It’s great to see so many scientists from the region rewarded at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference.
“For every one dementia researcher, there are four working to tackle cancer. Increasing the number of dementia researchers is a goal that Alzheimer’s Research UK is working hard to achieve. Investing in early career researchers now is vital to make sure we have the best dementia research leaders of tomorrow and that we can continue to make research breakthroughs possible.”
The first grant ever awarded by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s went to Prof Michel Goedert, at the University of Cambridge, who is a research leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. He is now supervisor to Dr Ben Falcon at the LMB, who shares this year’s Rising Star Award with fellow Cambridge researcher Dr Thomas Cope.
Early Career Investigator of the Year – Dr Jemeen Sreedharan
Taking home the largest prize, with £25,000 in research expenses, was Dr Jemeen Sreedharan for work carried out primarily at the Babraham Institute.
Now at King’s College London, Dr Jemeen Sreedharan’s earlier work involved studying a protein that plays an important role in motor neuron disease (MND).
Previously he worked in the USA on a fruit fly with features of MND, which helped him to identify potential approaches to limit the harmful effects of the TDP-43 protein.
Dr Sreedharan said: “It is a delight to receive this prestigious award for the research we have conducted into motor neuron disease and frontotemporal dementia. The generous funds I’ve received will have an immediate impact on our progress unravelling these devastating diseases and developing effective treatments.”
Rising Star Award –Dr Benjamin Falcon
Dr Benjamin Falcon, an early career postdoctoral researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, takes a share in the Rising Star Award, with £10,000 for research expenses, for his work on unravelling the structures of the tau protein in cases of dementia.
He said: “I am thrilled to receive the support of Alzheimer’s Research UK with this award.
“Using electron microscopes to reveal the structure of the tau protein that underlies different neurodegenerative diseases has opened up many new avenues for research.
“This funding will now enable me to explore this discovery further.
“This has been an excellent introduction to working with Alzheimer’s Research UK, which I hope will continue.”
Rising Star Award – Dr Thomas Cope
Sharing the Rising Star Award with £10,000 for research expenses is Dr Thomas Cope, an NIHR clinical lecturer in dementia at the University of Cambridge. He recently obtained his PhD but is already well-known within the dementia community as he has spent many years as a cognitive neurologist.
Bridging the gap between laboratory research into the molecular underpinnings of dementia and clinical trials of potential treatments, his research employs a variety of brain scanning techniques.
Dr Cope looks at how the brain codes the information a person sees and hears and how this goes wrong in dementia.
He said: “It’s fantastic to have been recognised as a rising star by Alzheimer’s Research UK, who have already been supporting my work with funding through the local Research Network in Cambridge.”
Jean Corsan Prize – Dr Jason Sang
Dr Jason Sang won £2,000 for the best paper by an early career researcher.
Based at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, Dr Sang found that a protein that builds up in dementia with Lewy bodies spreads through the brain in a similar way to the prion protein, responsible for Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (CJD).
He said: “Winning the Jean Corsan prize is the highlight of my career so far.
“It’s an honour to receive this award and be given an opportunity to present my work to world experts at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference.
“Making discoveries like this requires dedication and if it advances our understanding of the way diseases develop, it will get us one step closer to changing people’s lives.”
Dick Bell Prize Winner – Fiona Calvert
PhD researcher Fiona Calvert, whose research is based at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, took to the stage to talk about her work on human genetics.
Her findings show that brain immune cells called microglia are key players in Alzheimer’s.
She won £250 after being judged by a panel of scientific communication experts from Alzheimer’s Research UK to have given the most engaging talk at the conference.
She said: “I was over the moon to have the opportunity to share my work on the immune system in the brain with scientists at the conference, and was honoured to receive the Dick Bell Prize for my talk.
“It is fantastic that Alzheimer’s Research UK recognises the importance of communicating our science with this prize.”
More by this authorPaul Brackley