Alzheimer’s Research UK conference

Conference details: Alzheimer’s Research UK conference, Belfast, N.Ireland
Report by: Alzheimer’s Research UK

March 2013 saw over 200 dementia researchers from across the UK (and beyond) gather in Belfast for the 14th annual Alzheimer’s Research UK conference. The conference is the UK’s largest annual meeting on dementia research, and each year is hosted by one of the 15 Alzheimer’s Research UK Network Centres of excellence across the country. This year marked the first completion of the cycle, with the conference hosted by the Northern Ireland Network, organised by Professor Christian Hölscher, from the University of Ulster in Coleraine.

The two-day event consisted of 4 sessions of short talks, a keynote lecture from Professor Mathias Jucker (from the University of Tübingen, Germany), a panel discussion on immunotherapy to treat Alzheimer’s disease, a poster session, and a moving and motivating address from the actor and Chancellor of the University of Ulster, James Nesbitt. In his speech Nesbitt called for more dementia research funding, “or else face a dementia catastrophe” and urged the government to commit to long term funding for research into dementia.

The short talks given at the conference covered a wide range of topics, from insulin signalling in Alzheimer’s disease to neuroimaging studies demonstrating the effect of genetic risks for Alzheimer’s on brain structure as well as studies on amyloid-beta oligomer formation, and the effects of amyloid-beta on synapse loss. Dr Oleg Anichtchik from the University of Cambridge presented a new mouse model for Dementia with Lewy bodies. The mice express a truncated form of human α-synuclein at levels lower than endogenous α-synuclein, and present abnormal aggregation of α-synuclein and memory deficits at 3 months of age. Professor Anne Stephenson, from University College London, demonstrated a potential function for the Alzheimer’s amyloid precursor protein. She showed data supporting a role for amyloid precursor protein in trafficking, showing it can control the sub-cellular location and the surface expression of neurotransmitter receptors with a role in learning and memory. A particular highlight was data presented by Professor Kevin Morgan, demonstrating the reliability of a panel of plasma and CSF biomarkers for predicting AD diagnosis, for which they have developed a high throughput surface plasmon resonance detection system.

The keynote lecture “Prion-like aspects of cerebral amyloidosis” was given by Professor Mathias Jucker, from the University of Tübingen, Germany. Professor Jucker discussed the evidence that exogenous injection of the amyloid-beta-containing brain extracts can induce amyloid pathology in a previously unaffected brain, akin to the infection spread of prion disease.

The first day concluded with an expert panel discussion on immunotherapy as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Eric Karran, the Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, succinctly summarized several years of research and what have been several disappointing clinical trials for both bapineuzumab and solanezumab. The panel, Professor Clive Holmes, Professor James Nicoll, Professor Hugh Perry (all from The University of Southampton) and Professor Mathias Jucker, chaired by Dr Pat Kehoe (The University of Bristol), then took questions and suggestions from the delegates. The resulting discussion addressed important issues such as why these drugs may have failed and identified potential hurdles that need to be overcome in order to develop a successful therapy. This was a very interesting session for all involved, and provided a forum in which, regardless of job title, everyone could discuss and contribute to the advance of a promising area of research. This was followed by a banquet dinner including live traditional Irish entertainment from the folk bands Sons Of Caliber and Emerald Armada.

The conference concluded with the awarding of the poster prize, which went to Claire McDonald from Trinity College Dublin, and the Jean Corsan Prize and talk. The Jean Corsan Prize is awarded to the best published paper by a PhD student, and this year went to Dr Daniel Davis from the University of Cambridge. His work showed that delirium (confusion and disruption in thinking) is a strong risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline, which was not associated with “traditional” markers for dementia such as Braak stage, amyloid or α-synuclein.

Following the main conference a PhD day was held at the University of Ulster. The event, exclusive to PhD students, allowed them to present their projects, and also included career advice in a session entitled “Life after the PhD”.