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COVID-19 – The dementia research field adapts

Dr Carol Routledge

It hardly needs to be said that the whole country is going through a very challenging time as we take steps to limit the impact of the coronavirus. Almost every walk of life will have been impacted by the outbreak and our thoughts are with all of those affected.

People with dementia are likely to be particularly vulnerable to this virus so it is especially important that they and those around them take what steps they can to avoid transmission. For the latest guidance on COVID-19, and steps to care for yourself and others, please see the NHS website.


Alzheimer’s Research UK Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathon Schott

Keeping our research going

Many labs and study sites have now temporarily closed for the same reasons as in other sectors – social distancing and the need to care for families at home.

In line with Government guidance on reducing person-to-person contact, many people taking part in dementia studies will have had their research appointments postponed. This is to keep healthcare professionals and participants safe, and to allow research teams to support frontline healthcare delivery where possible.

But while many scientists won’t be working in the lab and running experiments, there are many other aspects of research that they are focusing on in the meantime.

Successful research depends on careful planning, reading the latest published findings from around the world, developing new ideas, designing experiments, analysing data, writing up research into articles for scientific journals, and connecting with colleagues to share findings and develop collaborations. These are all critical elements of a researcher’s job that can be done while working remotely.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is a founding funder of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) the country’s largest dementia research initiative.

Prof Bart De Strooper, the Director of the UK DRI, is determined to maintain the crucial progress the Institute is making while ensuring the health and safety of the 450 researchers who work in his team.

Prof Bart De Strooper, Director of the UK DRI

“Despite coronavirus forcing the temporary wind-down of almost all of our lab-based activities, the UK DRI is prepared and equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.

“We have put everything in place to enable our staff to work from home, moved all of our meetings to the virtual world, and created new resources to enable our teams to continue to work together.

“Our leadership team is meeting regularly, sharing short-term best practices, planning for the mid-term, and ensuring that we are ready to get back up to full speed as soon as circumstances allow.

“Just because we cannot work in the labs does not mean that all research activity stops: our computer-based research continues, with data being analysed, shared and exploited to the full; other results are being pored over and readied for publication; new collaborations are being discussed, and new project ideas are being developed and refined.

“When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic itself, we are contributing our skills to the challenge: UK DRI research staff with specific lab-based skills have responded to a request from Public Health England to support their coronavirus testing activities; many of our clinician scientists are working directly to support patients; and we have responded to requests for coronavirus-related research proposals such as improved virus testing.

“These are uncharted waters, requiring many personal and professional adjustments. Not only are we up to the challenge but we fully intend to emerge from the crisis stronger and more committed than ever.”

Our conference and operations

At the start of this month Alzheimer’s Research UK took the difficult decision to cancel our Research Conference and we are now working towards a virtual conference to help with the essential flow of information that underpins dementia research.

Like other organisations around the country we are now closing our offices in line with government advice and to ensure the health of all of our employees.

Unlike many in the wider public, our staff are fortunate enough to be able to operate remotely and to keep the important work of the charity going during this difficult time.

We will continue to administer our research programmes, challenge misconceptions, provide information to the public and raise vital funds for research with as little disruption as possible.

Our Dementia Research Infoline remains open to provide information about dementia, and about research, to members of the public. You can contact the Infoline on 0300 111 5 111 or by emailing infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org

The Infoline will still register people who are interested in taking part in dementia research to the Join Dementia Research service, which matches people to suitable studies. But during the COVID-19 outbreak, this system understandably won’t be matching to studies that involve direct contact. However, there are many studies on Join Dementia Research that do not involve person-to-person contact, and these will continue.

As we all adapt to new and unprecedented circumstances, I’d like to thank all of our supporters, researchers, partners and employees who are all doing so much to bring about a world free from the fear harm and heartbreak of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is committed to this vision and our work will continue throughout this challenging time.

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