Cambridge researchers once again took a leading role at the Alzheimer’s Research UK research conference, with awards for two scientists and presentations by two PhD students.
Dr András Lakatos, a neurobiologist and consultant neurologist in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience, has won the £25,000 David Hague Prize for Early Career Researcher of the Year.
And Dr Negin Holland, a clinical researcher and neurology registrar at the Cambridge Center for Parkinson-Plus, won the £2,000 Jean Corsan Prize for the best paper by an early career researcher.
They presented their research at the Brighton Centre, along with Cambridge PhD students Audrey Low and Karnika Gupta, to an audience of almost 600 delegates – the first time since 2019 that the conference was held in person.
Amid the pandemic, grant-dependent early career researchers have faced funding shortfalls, leaving many facing tough decisions about whether dementia research is a viable career choice.
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, research director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘There are almost a million people in the UK with dementia, including over 11,000 in Cambridgeshire alone. Early career researchers have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and as part of our work to bring life-changing breakthroughs to people with dementia, we prioritize supporting these scientists for us ensure that we have the future research leaders of tomorrow.
The Dr. Lakatos Award recognized him as the most outstanding early career investigator in the field of biomedical dementia research. In addition to the £25,000 Research Expenditure Prize, he won a personal prize of £1,500.
He leads a research lab that has helped understand the role of support cells in the brain’s nerve cell network using “mini-brains in a box,” or organoids. His current work aims to fill the knowledge gap between genetic risk and pathways contributing to nerve cell loss in diseases such as frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“I feel very privileged to receive this prestigious award, especially in light of the list of distinguished colleagues who have received it before me,” he said.
“I take it as recognition of my lab’s efforts over the years, and I’m confident it will fuel our research into neurodegenerative diseases.
“We currently don’t have very effective options for treating conditions like frontotemporal dementia or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This award is particularly gratifying because this research may be able to identify other potential drug targets and give people hope.
Dr. Holland won his prize for the best paper published by a doctoral student in the field. He looked at people with an accumulation of tau, a protein implicated in a number of diseases that lead to the loss of nerve cells.
The Cambridge research team recruited participants with progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration from the Cambridge Center for Parkinson-Plus and Join Dementia Research, which offers the opportunity to participate in dementia research studies.
Dr Holland used brain scans to show that areas of the brain with more connections between nerve cells also have more tau buildup, suggesting that the connections may help spread disease.
In patients with more severe disease, the relationship is lost. Nerve cell connections play a critical role in memory and thinking, which means the findings could inform the design of future clinical trials.
Dr Holland said: “I was very excited and touched by the news of the awarding of the Jean Corsan prize. As a clinician, I see patients with dementia on a daily basis. I am fortunate to be based in a center of excellence for dementia research and to have the opportunity to advance our understanding of this devastating disease one small step.
“I owe the success of the project to the expertise and collaboration of many people and, above all, to our patient volunteers.”
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