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Race Against Dementia looks to draw answers on Alzheimer’s disease from a study of people living with HIV


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Sir Jackie Stewart OBE

Race Against Dementia has appointed Professor Sam Nightingale as a Race Against Dementia Associate Fellow. Professor Nightingale is an Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Cape Town Neuroscience Institute. With generous backing from the Donald Gordon Foundation, he will lead a major new clinical study in dementia research which will examine the mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease, by studying a group of people living with HIV.

Despite extensive research, the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still not known. Amyloid protein accumulates in the brain of those with Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not clear why the body produces amyloid. Although not proven, one theory is that amyloid is a response to inflammation and infection in the brain – trying to patch up damaged areas as we grow older.

Examining a cohort of older people with HIV provides a unique opportunity to test this theory as HIV can affect the brain, leading to chronic inflammation. It is not yet known whether this leads to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease for older people with HIV. If it does, important conclusions could be formed about the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, which could lead to treatment or prevention for this devastating condition.

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“This disruptive approach, taking ideas from other areas of medicine, is exactly the type of thinking we need”

Sir Jackie Stewart OBE said “When it comes to dementia research, we do not know where the answer is going to come from. This disruptive approach, taking ideas from other areas of medicine, is exactly the type of thinking we need. Backing brilliant minds, like Professor Nightingale, and the significant support of the Donald Gordon Foundation, will help accelerate the race to beat dementia.”

Professor Nightingale trained in the UK, where he became interested in brain infections and global neurology. His first research fellowship was in Nepal, studying children with Japanese encephalitis and his work now focuses on people living with HIV.

Professor Sam Nightingale said “Neurology seemed the obvious choice when selecting a medical specialty. If I was to study one part of the body for the rest of my life, why not the human brain? It is the most complex object in the known universe. I feel privileged to have received this support and to be able to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not usually represented in science through my research.”

The study will investigate a cohort of 250 people over 70 years of age. Half will be people living with HIV and the other half will be a control group of HIV-negative people from a similar background. The amount of amyloid protein in the brain will be tested in all participants, through a spinal fluid test. This study is made possible by the success of antiretroviral treatment, enabling people with HIV to live to an older age.

The Donald Gordon Foundation which was established in 1971 is one of South Africa’s largest and oldest private philanthropic foundations, supporting charitable projects across the country. Founded by the late businessman and philanthropist, Sir Donald Gordon, the foundation will fund Professor Nightingale’s work for five years.

Professor Nightingale will also be part of the Race Against Dementia Fellowship Programme, an international development scheme for promising dementia researchers. The programme exposes Race Against Dementia Fellows to the high-performance culture found within Formula 1 and other innovative technology companies. The aim is to maximize the academic and personal potential of each Race Against Dementia Fellow, allowing them to fast-track dementia research and become a leader in their field.

Read more on Professor Nightingale here

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Dementia impacts memory, thinking and behaviour and includes several types of cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia.


The Race Against Dementia Fellowship Programme funds and supports the world’s most promising scientific talent. We back promising research projects that will accelerate progress towards a cure and treatment.


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