Research context

Improvements in medicines and lifestyle have had a major impact on increasing human longevity. However, the global increase in the ageing population is a major economic, health and public policy issue, due to the increasing number of this population that will be living with a debilitating and largely untreatable neurodegenerative disease (ND), such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Age is the greatest risk factor for these major neurodegenerative diseases. The National Research Prioritisation Exercise (NRPE) prioritised ageing as an major socioeconomic research focus considering that 1.5 million Irish people (approx. 30% of the population) will be over the age of 60 by 2020[1].

Amongst neurodegenerative disorders affecting the ageing population, the dementias are responsible for the greatest proportion (60-70%), with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias affecting 7 million in Europe [2] and approximately 44,000 people within Ireland [3]. Without better treatments this figure is expected to double every 20 years as the population ages. The number of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) is also expected to double by 2030 [4], and other debilitating age-related neurodegenerative diseases include Motor Neuron Disease (MND) and Huntington’s disease (HD) seriously impact on quality of life with age. Together these neurodegenerative disorders are the major cause of disability and dependency for older people and enormously costly to those affected, their families and carers and in social economic and health terms for governments. Alzheimer Research UK estimate that Europe-wide costs of care for people with dementia approximate €130 billion per annum [5], with cost for Ireland estimated at €1.7 billion[3].

However, research in neurodegenerative diseases to date is hugely underfunded in proportion to the scale of their incidence and social costs. The priority and challenge of developing increased funding for ND research to support improvements to care, and research and quality of life with ageing was highlighted by the NRPE, this urgency is further accentuated as existing treatments for ND are very limited, and only treat the symptoms, rather than addressing the cause. The Irish Government recognises the major challenges ahead and initiated the Strategic Research Agenda in Neurodegenerative Research in 2012 to examine how best to focus Irish dementia and neurodegenerative research activity on meeting these needs; since then the National Dementia Strategy was developed and published in 2014. The National Dementia Strategy supports research focusing on health services, systems and policy research, population health, prevention and intervention in particular. It is in this context that DNNI seeks to support and facilitate collaborative interdisciplinary research integrating the basic, clinical and social sciences to bring about a demonstrable impact on dementia and neurodegeneration disease research, knowledge translation and policy development with the express aim of enhancing the lives of individuals and families impacted by dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Research initiatives

DNNI strives to facilitate collaborative and cross disciplinary research, key themes include improved diagnosis and treatment, responsive and appropriate care delivery and improved quality of life for people with dementia and neurodegenerative diseases and their caregivers. The network also aims to develop and build research capacity between academic researchers and the wider health service, advocacy and policy community both nationally and internationally. In addition DNNI seeks to make a lasting contribution to policy debates and policy making in the area of diagnosis, training, health care design, resource allocation, public attitudes and quality of life for people with dementia and ND (for further info click on the thematic research areas below). Members of the network have a strong track record of engagement and collaboration with a wide variety of national and international partners in academia, industry and the pharmaceutical, non-profit and public sector and have been successful in a number of European programmes, including, FP7, the JPND and related COEN (Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration).