Dementia has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in England and Wales.
In 2015, more than 61,000 people died of dementia – 11.6 per cent of all recorded deaths.
The announcement from the Office for National Statistics came just days before news that a major trial of a drug, solanezumab, to treat mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease had ended in failure.
The two reports highlight the continuing need for research into potential treatments and cures for these devastating diseases and other neurodegenerative conditions.
This huge medical challenge is one reason why the Manchester Brain Bank is so important. Founded in 1986 by world renowned neuropathologist Professor David Mann, the brain bank is housed in the Clinical Sciences Building at Salford Royal but has been used by researchers all over the world, including collaborations with teams in Japan, China and the United States, among others.
Nearly 1,000 brains are stored in the bank, covering conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, motor neurone disease, Parkinsonian disorders and Huntington’s disease. One brain can be part of many research projects and samples from a brain donated in 1969 are still in use today.
As one of only 10 brain banks in the UK, the facility is increasingly well used with tissue requests rising year on year – in the last four years it has supported 50 research projects, resulting in 67 publications in scientific journals.
The collection has underpinned much of the basic and clinical research into frontotemporal dementias that has been pioneered in Manchester over the past 30 years. Key findings in recent years have involved identifying mutation of the gene C9orf72 as the major cause of inherited frontotemporal dementia and motor neurone disease.
Manager Dr Andy Robinson (main picture) is also finding that more people are volunteering to donate their brains for future research.
He explained: “People are increasingly aware of the need for good quality research into the different types of dementia – which touches so many lives – and other neurodegenerative conditions. Signing up to become a brain donor is a practical contribution to these studies. We work to the highest possible scientific and ethical standards and only provide tissue sample to projects that are ethically approved. We are really grateful to the people who have donated to us and their families and proud that we are assisting research that could change lives in the future.”
The Bank currently accepts brains that have been donated through the national Brains for Dementia Research Network, Salford Royal’s Cerebral Function Unit and the Manchester and Newcastle Longitudinal Ageing Cohort.