In the two years since Britain’s Dementia Research Institute was launched, the country, and with it the fledgling institute, has been tossed about by the roiling chaos of Brexit. Now, despite it all, the DRI is striking out to transform translational dementia research. It will bring in a director of innovation and business to help the country’s six, soon to be seven, DRI centers turn discoveries into inventions that help dementia patients. Bart De Strooper, who directs the DRI, told Alzforum that the position aims high. “We will change the way academia interacts with industry,” he told Alzforum.
The DRI has 48 group leaders at six different centers; the seventh, to focus on care research and technology, will begin soon at Imperial College London. The new center will collaborate with the school of engineering to develop devices and approaches for early diagnosis and will seek ways to improve function in people with neurodegenerative conditions. De Strooper anticipates a trove of new information from these efforts and from collaborations across the existing six centers on patient cell studies, polygenic risk analyses, chimeric models, and a project to develop high-resolution proteome and transcriptome maps from a series of human brains. “DRI is not about filling libraries with papers, it’s about bringing advances to patients and society,” he said.
To this end, De Strooper is looking for an innovator who will be part teacher, part fundraiser, and part manager. He expects this director to change how academic scientists think about translation. He envisions a leader who mints basic research into inventions without hurting the scientific process, who forges partnerships with industry, oversees technology transfer agreements and intellectual property, and creates spin-offs based on DRI research.
Brexit is complicating the challenge. De Strooper said it has created uncertainty in the country’s scientific community. Were Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal, EU grants to U.K. institutes could disappear, as could social security benefits for EU researchers in Britain. Funding for the DRI itself, up for renewal in three years, could be in jeopardy if the U.K. economy tanks. This uncertainty could last another six months with the deadline for an agreement extended until October 31.
Despite Brexit fears, De Strooper projects energetic optimism about the DRI. “The U.K.’s ambition for dementia research is admirable,” he said. “They want to lead the world, from basic science to translation, by focusing on human biology, which is, after all, the ground truth.” But he acknowledged the challenge of keeping up the pace of collaborations and data-sharing, and of tackling ambitious programs in the face of deepening paralysis in the country’s politics. “We want the sum of DRI to be more than its parts. That’s our biggest challenge going forward,” he said.
Applications for the new director position are due April 25.—Tom Fagan
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