Project information

Investigating the causes of Alzheimer's

This project will aid the development of new drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. It will examine how the tau protein, that ‘tangles’ up during the disease, can damage nerve cells. The project will use adult stem cells that will be turned into nerve cells, so the disease can be studied in the lab.

September 2009 - September 2012

Charity information: Alzheimer's Research UK

Alzheimer's Research UK logo
  • Need


    Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect around 820,000 people in the UK today; this number is forecast to grow. It is a devastating disease that robs people of memories, personality and eventually their lives. At the moment there are no effective treatments for the disease. Alzheimer’s and other dementias have an economic impact to the UK of £23 billion per year, yet research into Alzheimer’s is drastically underfunded.


    This project is one of 179 research projects that the Alzheimer’s Research Trust is currently supporting. In line with the charity’s vision, this project will move us towards a world free from dementia. This project will bring us closer to understanding the causes of Alzheimer’s and what damages nerve cells in the brain during the disease. This will in turn help the development of new drugs to treat Alzheimer’s.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    To generate nerve cells from adult skin cells.


    » Skin cells from patients with tau tangles as well as healthy people, will be turned into stem cells.
    » Stem cells can transform into any cell in the body and they will be directed to develop into nerve cells.
    » Validate the presence of nerve cells using specific staining experiments and confocal microscopy.

    As the research progresses Dr Wray will write up the results, including to what extent the aims have been reached, for an annual report to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust

    Aim 2

    To characterise the extent of damage caused by tau tangles in nerve cells.


    » Experiments to asses the amount of tau present, its structure and where in the cells it is located.
    » Assess the function of the nerve cells, including their ability to communicate with each other.

    As the research progresses Dr Wray will write up the results, including to what extent the aims have been reached, for an annual report to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust

    Aim 3

    Assess the changes in gene expression occur in response to tau tangles.


    » Using a profiling approach, compare genes between nerve cells from Alzheimer’s patients and healthy people.
    » Identify processes that enhance or protect from the damage caused by tau tangles.

    As the research progresses Dr Wray will write up the results, including to what extent the aims have been reached, for an annual report to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust

  • Impact


    This research will generate nerve cells containing tau tangles, from patients stem cells. This has never been done before and so will provide researchers with an important tool to study tau and how it damages cells. When the research is published, researchers around the world will have access to the results, moving the field forward and bringing us closer to new treatments.


    As with all novel research, it is possible the experiments may not work exactly as planned. The Alzheimer’s Research Trust chooses research projects based on recommendations by our distinguished Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB comprises world-leading dementia scientists. This project was scored extremely highly by the SAB and they commented that the experienced researchers have the necessary expertise and support to undertake these experiments.


    We will report to donors annually during the project and provide a full final report at its conclusion. There may also be the opportunity for donors to visit the laboratory and speak with the scientists during the project should they wish.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £164,818

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £29,017 Consumables Consumables, travel, misc
      £135,801 Salary Salary for three years (including, basic salary, national insurance, superannuation and London al
  • Background


    The Institute of Neurology (IoN) received the highest 5* rating in the last University Research Assessment Exercises. The IoN has a multidisciplinary approach to research which is strengthened by close collaboration with The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Professor Hardy and others at IoN have both national and international collaborations as well as more informal links within both UCL and London.


    The results from this project will be used to improve the lives of all people living with Alzheimer’s, by bringing us closer to new treatments. As the results will be published and made available to all Alzheimer’s researchers the broader field will also benefit. Research is the only way to defeat this terrible disease and Dr Wray’s work is bringing us closer to that goal.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    The Alzheimer’s Research Trust is the UK’s leading dementia research charity. We are dedicated to supporting work that will bring us closer a world free from dementia. We fund research with the aim of preventing, treating or curing dementia. We have funded over 290 research grants across the UK, worth over £29 million and we are making real progress in the fight against dementia.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Prof John Hardy

    A geneticist and molecular biologist who is the most cited Alzheimer's disease researcher in the UK (5th internationally).

    Dr Selina Wray

    A talented young researcher, Dr Wray recently completed her PhD. She will be supervised by Prof John Hardy.