The James Dyson Foundation and a charity led by F1 legend Jackie Stewart are teaming up to support a £500,000 research fellowship into dementia.
The Race Against Dementia Dyson Fellowship will see Dr Claire Durrant investigating the effects of dementia on the brain, using Dyson equipment which is usually reserved for battery research. Around 50 million people around the world suffer from dementia, and with no current cure, it is estimated that one in three people born today will ultimately die of the disease.
Dr Durrant’s five-year research project will seek to explore the biological complexity of dementia through the prism of engineering rigour. Dyson engineers will help Claire analyse brain samples on a microscopic level, using in-house equipment and expertise at the company’s labs in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. After collaborating online over the past year, Dr Durrant visited Malmesbury in July 2021 to get hands-on with the team’s equipment and better understand its application in her research.
“So far, I’ve designed my experiments using equipment available in my lab,” she explained. “But working with Dyson, I’m asked questions about my methodology and apparatus that I’d never considered.
“People haven’t thought of working in this way because biology and engineering are two disciplines that normally sit on parallel tramlines. I can’t think of any other science scheme where you get access to different people and game-changing resources in the same way that you do in the Race Against Dementia Dyson Fellowship; it’s really phenomenal.”
The research project will investigate the role of tau, a key protein implicated in both frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Durrant is investigating the role of tau in keeping synapses – the connections between brain cells – healthy and how these change during the disease. The tau protein is an important target for future dementia treatments and understanding more about its role in Alzheimer’s disease will be key for the success of this approach.
Race Against Dementia was founded by Sir Jackie Stewart after his wife Helen was diagnosed with the disease in 2014. Working with F1 teams and companies such as Dyson, the organisation is seeking to accelerate dementia research and come up with new methods to explore possible cures and ways of preventing the onset of dementia.
“Race Against Dementia are striving to find solutions to one of the most devastating, unanswered problems in the medical world,” said Sir James Dyson.
“By encouraging collaboration across industry and asking questions we can challenge convention to find a different and better way of doing things. Over the past ten years Dyson has been doing very serious research into battery development which involves looking at the chemistry of batteries and what goes on inside at a molecular level.
“This research, as well as the skills and equipment that we have here at Dyson, meant that our engineers can help Claire examine brain tissue atomically as she continues her pioneering research. It’s about approaching things from new angles and I find that very exciting.”