Dr Shelley Allen
University of Bristol
Scientific backgroundMy first degree was in Biochemistry at University of Surrey, with a year at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in Kent. I did research on neuroscience for my PhD (Alzheimer's disease and ageing) in David Bowen's group at the Institute of Neurology in London and since that I have been working at the University of Bristol, originally with Gordon Wilcock, (Department of Care of the Elderly), and currently at the Henry Wellcome Neuroscience Building, which is directed by Stafford Lightman.
Why dementia research?Dementia is a dreadfully disabling condition, and not to be able to make sense of what is happening around you must be extremely frightening. In effect both sufferers and their loved ones lose each other. Despite the enormous complexity of the brain I believe that when it stops functioning properly we may still be able to help it to recover.
Current research interestsI am interested in the underlying mechanisms of neurodegeneration, particularly the early changes in two growth factors: nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These are implicated in the brain pathology and may also play a role in treatment. I am also collaborating with a colleague, David Dawbarn, in a project to design small molecule drugs aimed at preventing vulnerable brain cells from degenerating.
What do you think people with dementia should expect from research in the next 10 years?The term dementia of course includes many different cognitive disorders. With regards to Alzheimer's disease I think it likely that there will be a number of new therapies in clinical trials, some of which can be expected at least to slow down the progression of the disease. Because of the complexity of the disease it is unlikely that there will be one treatment which will help all patients. Furthermore a combination of therapies might be necessary.
What needs to be in place for this to happen?Without a doubt, we would need a strong governmental commitment to research. This is a complex disease and we need more basic research to understand the disease process, in addition to good translational research (producing drugs) from industry and academia. The latest drug is only as good as the research it is based on. Sometimes scientific discoveries are regarded as definitive but research isn't like that; we never know everything! It is more like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, without first seeing the picture. New pieces of evidence can help to re-interpret data already fitted together.
Interests outside of dementia researchI am an enameller, mainly small panel work (a member of the British Society of Enamellers), I write poetry and prose and I am a member of the Catalyst women artists and scientists group (centred in Portsmouth). I strongly believe that art and science can complement each other.
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