Pioneering dementia research project races ahead

Formula One racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart and inventor and engineer Sir James Dyson joined forces to mark the official launch of an ambitious project that aims to uncover the causes of dementia.

Sir Jackie Stewart and Sir James Dyson hear from Lewis Taylor, a Research Assistant on the project

The project – a partnership between Sir Jackie Stewart’s charity, Race Against Dementia (RAD), the James Dyson Foundation and the University of Edinburgh – will link experts from Formula One and Dyson and apply novel techniques to investigate the biology of human brain tissue.

The Dyson RAD Dementia Research Acceleration Project will bring best practice from these fast-paced, innovative industries into the world of biomedical research, experts say.

One in three people born today will develop dementia in their lifetime. Urgent work is needed to understand the causes of dementia to help develop safe and effective therapies.

Brain tissue

Led by Dr Claire Durrant at the University of Edinburgh, researchers are developing new human brain models to understand how Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia – damages the brain.

The team works in partnership with neurosurgeon Dr Paul Brennan, from the University’s Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, to recover samples of surplus human brain tissue following neurosurgery operations.

These small pieces of healthy human brain, which are collected with the patient’s permission and would otherwise be destroyed, can be kept alive in the lab for several weeks.

Innovative techniques

Using cutting-edge microscopes and equipment, experts will explore how the sample brain cells respond to toxic proteins – linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease – and potential therapies.

“This project will enable us to develop cutting edge research tools using live human brain, something only a handful of labs have access to world-wide. With this generous support from Race Against Dementia and the James Dyson Foundation we are able to bring this amazing technology to the University of Edinburgh, enabling us to explore exactly how Alzheimer’s disease damages the brain. I hope the work we conduct in this project will bring us one step closer to a world free from the heartbreak of dementia.”
Dr Claire DurrantRAD Dyson Fellow, University of Edinburgh

The three-year £1 million project, which started in early 2023, celebrated its official launch with guests at the University of Edinburgh.

As part of the visit, Sir Jackie Stewart and Sir James Dyson toured laboratories at the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences to witness the research project in action and spoke to experts about their progress and aims for the future.

The funding supports a full-time postdoctoral researcher, research assistant, support from NHS research nurses, state-of-the-art equipment and laboratory resources.

“I am so delighted that Race Against Dementia has been able to join forces with the James Dyson Foundation to accelerate this vital research. Not only has James Dyson given Claire Durrant very generous financial support but he has also encouraged Dyson engineers to assist her by applying Dyson in-house equipment and expertise to her research. It is a wonderful collaboration between scientists and engineers, which reflects a true F1 problem solving mindset – and will, I hope, produce great results.”
Sir Jackie Stewart

“I believe the world’s most challenging problems can be solved by scientists and engineers who strive towards solutions while others throw their hands up in despair. Dr Claire Durrant isn’t afraid to try something new and break from the scientific consensus as she races to find treatments for dementia. Sir Jackie Stewart introduced us through his wonderful Race Against Dementia programme and I am so pleased to support her research, which could solve one of the most devastating, unanswered problems in the medical world that will affect so many of us. This isn’t just about a donation but also collaboration – Dyson engineers and dementia scientists approaching things from new angles. I find that very exciting.”
Sir James Dyson