Dementia research in the UK was given a boost this week with the creation of a new ministerial group tasked with driving forward work into the causes, cure and care of the condition.

The Department of Health said yesterday that Care Services Minister Phil Hope will take charge of the new group - which includes members from the government, charities and the commercial sector - to focus on boosting the volume and quality of research into dementia as well as its impact in clinical practice.

The move follows the government’s Dementia Research Summit in July at which priority areas for research were identified, including ensuring that funding is put to best use, facilitating better clinical trials access for patients and strengthening collaborative work, especially through stronger links with the commercial sector, it said.

It has long been thought that dementia research in the country is lagging well behind other therapeutic areas such as cancer, when realistically it is one of the greatest health challenges faced by our ageing society. Currently around 700,000 people in the UK have dementia, at a cost of £17 billion to the economy, but the patient toll is estimated to hit 1 million in the next 10 years, highlighting the magnitude of the problem.

“A cure for cancer is traditionally seen as the Holy Grail of medical science. But in an ageing world where more and more of us will succumb to dementia, we need to view a cure for dementia in a similar light,” stressed Hope. And, while £32 million was sunk into the area by the government last year “more must be done to make the most of existing opportunities” to help develop new treatments and finding a cure for the condition, he explained.

Response largely positive
Neil Hunt, Chief Executive Alzheimer’s Society, has welcomed the move, hailing it as “a significant development in the fight against dementia”. According to Hunt, one in three over 65s will die with dementia, yet research into its causes and a potential cure is “desperately under funded”, and he has applauded the recognition of the need for a clear plan to drive forward and lead dementia research, which, he says, “has the potential to change lives”.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, also supported the formation of the new ministerial group and welcomed the “long overdue” focus on dementia research. But she added that in order to live up to its promise to “drive change forward” the group must boost levels of funding. “Only with increased investment in research can we bring about the fundamental change that people with dementia need – a treatment or cure,” she stressed.