Last month, the media reported a case of potential scientific research fraud in some Alzheimer’s laboratory studies in the United States.
The allegations focus on an important substance known as beta amyloid, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, and on the researchers who claim to have discovered a particular form of this substance.
Troubling as these allegations may be, they do not cast doubts on the overall direction of research into Alzheimer’s that is taking place at MAC Clinical Research.
The headlines stem from an important scientific journal called Science, which has outlined possible instances of faked results in several research papers from researchers in the US. The report involves images of scientific tests that can reveal the presence of different types of beta amyloid in biological samples.
Understanding the different forms of amyloid, and whether and how they are involved in Alzheimer’s, has been a focus in many research laboratories. In people with Alzheimer’s, beta amyloid forms into clumps called plaques in their brain. The beta amyloid itself can exist in other forms, some of which are known as oligomers. Researchers have been working to better understand how these amyloid oligomers are involved in Alzheimer’s, compared with the larger amyloid clumps that form into plaques. Some of the early research into these plaques took place in 1983: the late Professor David Allsop from Defying Dementia, Lancaster University, was the first scientist to isolate plaques from the brains of people who had died with Alzheimer’s.
The allegations highlight a 2006 Science article focused on the apparent discovery of one particular type of beta amyloid oligomer, and the role it plays in damage to nerve cells in the brain in rats. But this is only a very small part of decades of extensive research into amyloid, which has generated a huge body of evidence that amyloid does indeed play an important role in Alzheimer’s, including very strong genetic evidence.
It’s important to stress that the vast majority of Alzheimer’s research into beta amyloid, and the research being undertaken here at MAC, is largely unaffected by these specific allegations, even if they turn out to be true.
Dr Penny Foulds from MAC Clinical Research said: “It’s vital that we continue to research into improving treatments for Alzheimer’s which is estimated to affect around 1 million people in the UK.
“We can only improve treatments, however, with the help of clinical trial participants. Clinical research shapes the future of healthcare and improves the quality of life for countless people across the world.”
This week, the government has urged volunteers to join ’Babs’ Army’ by signing up for dementia research trials at Join Dementia Research to commemorate the late Dame Barbara Windsor.
Officials and Dame Barbara’s family have issued a call for volunteers, with or without a family history of dementia to come forward and sign up for clinical trials for preventative therapies via the Join Dementia Research task force.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “By harnessing the same spirit of innovation that delivered the vaccine rollout, this new Dementia mission, backed by £95 million of government funding, will help us find new ways to deliver earlier diagnosis, enhanced treatments and ensure a better quality of life for those living with this disease, both now and in the future.”
An extra £95 million has been promised for dementia research, doubling research funding to £160 million a year by 2024, the Government said.
If you or someone you love are currently living with Alzheimer’s and are interested in taking part in clinical trials for the condition, you can find out more and register your interest via MAC’s website here.