Announcing the recipients of the 2021 RAD Seed Grant

Posted on the 10th November 2021

Following our Innovation Accelerator in July, Sir Jackie Stewart announced the RAD Seed Grant. This Grant provides funds for proof of concept for any idea targeting the acceleration of finding a prevention or cure for dementia.

The brief was to propose any idea whether it be to focus on a particular part of dementia science… or to facilitate better collaboration between disciplines and institutions….or may be to encourage and recruit more people to make their careers in this important area…. or raise public awareness to raise pressure on government to increase funding…or something that the RAD team has not yet even imagined.

We received some extremely creative and inspiring applications and after review by RADs Scientific Advisors, Prof Philip Scheltens and Prof Siddharthan Chandran we’re thrilled to announce that the recipients of the £20,000 grant are the team behind Transform Dementia Research (TDR). The grant will fund the first year pilot of their venture.

This cross discipline and industry collaborative team are led by Dr Michele Veldsman, University of Oxford and Dr Hugo Fernandes, University of Cambridge. You can read more about the team members below.

By 2050, 152 million people will be living with dementia globally, costing £2 trillion on the global economy by 2030. Neuroscientists from the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, the University of Exeter and a former F1 engineer have come together to radically revolutionise the way dementia research is done, taking inspiration from the speed of innovation, problem-solving and teamwork in F1. The team has established a new non-profit social enterprise called Transform Dementia Research (TDR).

TDR recognises that dementia research currently suffers from a lack of FOCUS, a lack of FUNDING, and a lack of TEAMWORK.

TDR will consult the world leading experts on dementia research, find the most important scientific problems to answer, to make real breakthroughs, and put together cross-discipline, cross-industry teams to find solutions. Taking inspiration from how F1 teams work closely together, collaborate and draw on everyone’s strengths, the non-profit will change the way science is done to gather expertise from academia and industry to solve one of the most complex challenges we face in the 21st century. 

Lack of Focus: There is no consensus within the field as to what the most important and game-changing problems are to accelerate dementia research. As a result everyone works in parallel, and in competition, answering small, sometimes irrelevant questions that do not significantly move the field forward. This lack of focus is the result of poor collaboration and communication, a lack of reproducibility and a lack of funding (which promotes low-risk and narrow scope projects rather than the disruptive and innovative enquiry needed for major breakthroughs).

Lack of teamwork: The F1 pit stop is the ultimate example of seamless teamwork, where everyone is working towards a single, measurable goal. In contrast, dementia research is composed of largely independent scientists competing for the same goals. Take one aspect of the pit stop- removing a tire. In academia, 20 different people would be competing to change the tire, before the wheel nut had even been removed. Another 20 would be cleaning the body of the car, useful at some point – but not the immediate priority. Each person would expect to be given the credit. In academia, division and competition is further intensified by the current obligation to “find your own niche” as explicitly required by funding bodies and academic institutions. There is little incentive to work together towards a common goal, working to everyone’s strengths. 

Lack of funding: Despite costing more in health and social care than cancer and heart disease combined, dementia research receives only 10% of the total annual funding of cancer research. As a result of insufficient funding being distributed within a grant structure that pays salaries on a 2-3 year basis, most researchers work on temporary contracts. Researchers have to spend a large part of their time trying to secure funding to continue their research, rather than actually doing their research. For example, in Australia (an identical system to the UK) it is estimated that a total of 550 WORKING YEARS of research time was spent writing grants with only a 21% chance of being successful. 

To find out more follow TDR on Twitter @TDRorg.

We look forward to seeing their progress and sharing more information over the next year.


The TDR Team

Dr Michele Veldsman

Senior Research Scientist in Cognitive Neurology, University of Oxford

I am a senior research scientist in Cognitive Neurology studying how lifestyle and heart health affects the brain and increases the risk of dementia. I am the Imaging Working Group lead for the DEMON Network.

Dr Hugo Fernandes

Postdoctoral Fellow, UK DRI, University of Cambridge

I am a senior research scientist studying the molecular mechanisms that cause the loss of neurons in diseases associated with dementia. I develop and implement a range of in vitro models to study patient derived neurons (e.g. stem cell derived neurons) using novel single cell technologies.

Dr Alessandro Tomassini

Investigator Scientist, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge

I am a senior research scientist applying computational models and neuroimaging techniques to study early changes in cognitive functions that occur in neurological disease.

Matilda McAleenan

Associate Consultant, Bain & Company

I recently joined Bain & Company from McLaren Racing Formula 1 Team after studying Physical Natural Sciences with a Masters in Materials Sciences at the University of Cambridge. I am heavily involved in R&D and failure analyses, but I also contribute to wider engineering groups, such as the cross-departmental Reliability Group (which I helped to establish), Strategy Team and Design Team.

Prof David Llewellyn

Director, DEMON Network; Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Digital Health, University of Exeter; Fellow, Alan Turing Institute

Has extensive experience of dementia research and has published widely (>100 publications, Scopus h-index=42). He has particular expertise in managing large projects, and is Director of the international DEMON Network that has over 1,200 members spread across six continents. He is a Fellow and Clinical Lead at the Alan Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and AI.

Dr Janice Rance

Deputy Director, DEMON Network; Research Fellow in Dementia Prevention and Diagnostics, University of Exeter

I have expertise in the analysis of large population-based and clinical datasets, including investigation of risk factors and modelling disease outcomes for use in clinical settings. As Deputy Director of the DEMON Network, I coordinate collaborative multi-institution research projects, organise knowledge transfer events and develop strategic partnerships.

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