THE James Dyson Foundation is funding a £500,000 dementia research fellowship to help better understand the disease.

Former F1 driver Sir Jackie Stewart founded Race Against Dementia and now RAD Dyson Fellow Dr Claire Durant hopes to establish new human models of Alzheimer's disease by investigating the role of protein involved in the degenerative process.

Unless a cure is found, one in three people born today will die with the disease.

In the UK, there is one dementia researcher to every four cancer researcher. The Race Against Dementia Dyson Fellowship fuses together a relationship between industry and medicine to explore how technology can enable breakthroughs.

Dyson engineers are helping Claire analyse brain samples on a microscopic level, using in-house equipment and expertise at Dyson’s labs in Malmesbury. T

Sir James Dyson said: “Race Against Dementia is striving to find solutions to one of the most devastating, unanswered problems in the medical world.

"I am just so pleased to support Clare’s research through the Dyson Fellowship. By encouraging collaboration across industry and asking questions we can challenges 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.”

After collaborating online over the past year, Claire visited Dyson’s labs and engineers in July 2021 to get hands-on with the team’s equipment, to better understand its application in her research. Speaking about the Fellowship, Claire says:

She said: “So far, I’ve designed my experiments using equipment available in my lab 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 here, it’s really phenomenal.”

Dr Claire Durrant studied Natural Sciences and completed a PhD and post doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, sparking her intrigue to research further into how the brain works. She then relocated to the University of Edinburgh having successfully applied as the Race Against Dementia Dyson Fellow. Embarking on a five-year research programme to uniquely establish new human models of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Durrant’s £500,000 project, funded by the James Dyson Foundation, investigates 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.

Dr Durrant works with a network of brain surgeons to collect small samples of living human brain, with the patient’s permission, that would otherwise be disposed of following neurosurgery. Slicing them thinly and preserving the samples in dishes, she has proven we can keep brain alive in this way. By adding different drugs or stimuli thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease to the samples, Dr Durrant can watch the changes under a microscope in real time.