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US grant exclusive for UK dementia researcher

The US-based Alzheimer's Association has awarded Dr. David Llewellyn of Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry (PCMD), University of Exeter, a prestigious two-year $100,000 New Investigator Research Grant to further his dementia research. New Investigator awards are made following international peer review among applicants who are the most promising researchers who have earned their doctoral degrees within the last 10 years.

Dr. Llewellyn is the only researcher in the UK to receive an award from the Alzheimer's Association in 2011.

Dr. Llewellyn's goal is to investigate how low vitamin D levels may increase the risk of dementia and neuroimaging abnormalities, such as brain shrinkage in the US Cardiovascular Health Study. Named collaborators on this international project are Professor David Melzer (PCMD), Professor Kenneth Langa (University of Michigan), Dr Paulo Chaves (Johns Hopkins University) and Dr Bryan Kestenbaum (University of Washington). Support from the Alzheimer's Association will provide funding for a post-doctoral researcher to join Dr. Llewellyn to investigate vitamin D's potential as a biomarker and therapeutic target.

"It is an honour to receive this Alzheimer's Association award not only for myself but also for the wider Epidemiology and Public Health group at PCMD and our transatlantic collaborators," Dr. Llewellyn said. "Support from the Alzheimer's Association and other funders is vital to accelerate the pace of discovery that we are able to achieve and lay the foundations for our future research programme."

He added: "Unfortunately, the underlying causes of dementia are still largely unknown and current options for prevention and treatment are limited. However, the high proportion of vitamin D deficiency seen in people with cognitive impairment and dementia may provide us with an important clue. Few foods contain vitamin D, synthesis from sunlight is not possible for much of the year at northern latitudes, and skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D with age. Given the coming dementia epidemic, we need to investigate new therapeutic strategies such as vitamin D supplementation as a matter of urgency.".

In 2011, the Alzheimer's Association's International Research Grant Program awarded more than $12.8 million in funding to 78 investigators. Funded projects represent the proposals ranked highest by peer reviewers in an extremely competitive field of 875 applications.

"The Alzheimer's Association is pleased that, through this research grant, Dr. Llewellyn and his team will continue their innovative research, and we look forward to seeing his advances in the fight against Alzheimer's disease," said Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., senior director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association.

Dr. Llewellyn and his collaborators published the first study to identify a link between low vitamin D levels and the onset of new cognitive problems last year in the leading journal Archives of Internal Medicine, which attracted widespread international media attention. Dr. Llewellyn's research is also supported by the UK National Institute for Health Research Peninsula Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (PenCLAHRC) and grants from the James Tudor Foundation, the Norman Family Charitable Trust, the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry Foundation, the Age Related Diseases and Health Trust, and the Sir Halley Stewart Trust.

Over 800,000 people in the UK now have dementia and this costs the UK economy 23 billion per year more than cancer (12 billion per year) and heart disease (8 billion per year) combined. The average cost for each person with dementia, 27,647, is greater than the average UK salary. As the population ages the number of people with dementia in the UK will double over the next 30 years, with costs likely to rise to over 50 billion a year. The global burden of dementia is also staggering and more than 115 million people across the globe will suffer from dementia by 2050.

Contact: Andrew Gould
The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry

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