A Happy New Year to everybody. Clearly a year that contains a General Election, a spending review and a review of the Research Councils will not be dull!
I hope the review of the Research Councils will give more opportunities to exemplify the impacts arising from the Research Councils’ investments in research, how we invest collaboratively and dynamically to respond to new challenges and changing priorities and how we are striving to be more efficient. It will also, of course, identify ways in which the Research Councils could be more effective, efficient and innovative in their operations, as indeed all organisations should strive to do.
One of the greatest challenges we face as a society, which will need research contributions from economics, social science, basic bioscience, digital and other technologies, as well as biomedical research, is dementia. Even the arts have an important role to play since we already know that art and music can stimulate areas of the brain that are still responsive, triggering deep seated memories.
There are currently many research initiatives ongoing in this area but here I want to focus on something else. Across government there has been a commitment at department level to engage with a programme run by Public Health England and the Alzheimer’s Society – the Dementia Friend programme. When I worked researching and developing new medicines for dementia, I thought I knew a lot about the disease. But all the scientific and commercial insight information actually does not prepare you for the profound nature of the disease, and its impact, when a member of your family becomes affected. My mother had Lewy Body dementia the dementia that is associated, in some patients, with Parkinson’s disease. There are lots of practical things that one isn’t aware of and in her case as well as memory loss, there were weird, non-threatening hallucinations; the loss of executive functions which means that her normally sharp mathematical mind had difficulty with change at the shops; the loss of spatial awareness, which we should have realised earlier, resulting in her car coming back with huge dents in the back and side that had mysteriously appeared and many other things.
The Dementia Friends programme aims to inform people about the disease in a practical way so they can be more aware of people with the condition and help them – whether as family, friends or people they interact with at the shops, in the pub or café etc. There is a very moving video on the website where a lady who has Alzheimer’s dementia talks about its effects on her life – please watch it and sign up!
Finally I would personally like to congratulate members of the BBSRC community who received Honours in the New Year’s Honours List. Professor Russell Foster at the University of Oxford and BBSRC Council member and Dr Vicky Robinson, CE of the NC3Rs received the CBE; Dr Venu Nair at the Pirbright Institute received an OBE and Dr Anne Edwards from the John Innes Centre a BEM. Very well deserved!