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MPs And Scientists Warn Government Inaction On Dementia Could Set Research Back By A Decade

3 min read

Exclusive: A major new inquiry has found dementia research is at a tense "turning point" after labs were forced to shut during the pandemic.

MPs and peers from the all-party parliamentary group on dementia criticised the government for failing to meet their "dementia moonshot" manifesto commitment after research work was significantly disrupted over the last 18 months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged during the 2019 election to double research funding for the disease from £86m-a-year to £166m-a-year for the next ten years in a bid to find a cure.

But the cross-party group, which took evidence from leading dementia experts and organisations earlier this year, said the funding still hadn't been put in place and risked setting research back by a decade.

They also heard from researchers who had been shut out of their labs for long periods during the pandemic, with some losing months of work as they were forced to discard samples and disease models.

Top experts, including Professor Bart de Strooper of the UK Dementia Research Institute, and Edinburgh University professor Craig Ritchie, who leads the dementia 'PREVENT' study, said the lack of funding was also pushing early career researchers to leave for other fields.Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, co-chair of group, said ministers should act urgently to meet their manifesto commitment to the "chronically underfunded" field.

"People affected by dementia have been hit hardest by the pandemic, so the Government must step in now and honour their manifesto commitment to double dementia research funding," she said.

"Top experts are in agreement; this is a vital moment for dementia research in the UK. After a year of shut-down labs, now is the time to galvanise the dementia research effort and get them the funding they need. This inquiry is the first crucial step.

"Our knowledge of dementia lags so far behind other illnesses like cancer or heart disease and has been chronically underfunded for years; it is only through research that we can understand what causes dementia, and one day, find a cure."

The group also found the shortfall in funds for major medical research charities had been exacerbated after public donations fell during the pandemic, leaving them with "substantial" financial difficulties.

Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at Alzheimer's Society, which runs the group in partnership with MPs, said the government's commitment to boost funding is "needed more than ever"."It is only through research that we can understand what causes dementia, develop effective treatments, improve care, and one day find a cure. But coupled with decades of underfunding, the research community has been badly hit in the last year," she said.

"In 2020 nearly 80% of Alzheimer's Society funded researchers had to stop part or all of their research due to the pandemic. The Government's commitment to double its investment in dementia research is needed more than ever."

She added: "Dementia is the biggest killer in the UK, so the Government owes it to the 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and their families to honour their promise and give dementia research the cash injection it so desperately needs."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson, said: "We are committed to increasing funding for research to improve dementia care and diagnosis, spending £344 million in the first four years of the 2020 Challenge on Dementia.

"Sustainable improvement of the adult social care system remains a priority and, as affirmed in the Queen's Speech, we will bring forward proposals later this year to ensure every person receives the care they need, provided with the dignity they deserve."

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