drbocheA project that will investigate possible links between common infections and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease has been given a £300,000 funding boost.

The grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK will help to enable researchers from the University of Southampton to undertake a 3-year project to shed more light on whether inflammation caused by common infections, like urinary or chest infections, could make Alzheimer’s develop faster.

Study lead Dr Delphine Boche (pictured), lecturer in clinical neurosciences at the University of Southampton, said: "Many of the known risk factors for Alzheimer’s, like age, obesity and diabetes, increase inflammation in the brain and we think that infections could be another risk factor.

"There is already evidence that the immune system is on high alert in people with Alzheimer’s and we think that an extra trigger, like an infection, could tip the balance and make immune cells switch from being protective to harmful."

To investigate this link, the research team will look at brain tissue donated from people with Alzheimer’s to compare changes in the brains of those who had infections when they died compared to those who did not.

"We are particularly interested in immune cells called microglia, as we think they may start producing chemicals that could be harmful to cells and make Alzheimer’s worse," added Dr Boche. "The findings could have important implications both for our understanding of the disease and for the management of healthcare in the elderly."

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, added: "The study has the potential to help us understand more about how to delay the progression of this devastating disease, which affects over half a million people in the UK.

"Only by understanding the factors that drive the disease, can we develop new and innovative ways to slow it down. Last year, with our help, several high-profile studies implicated inflammation in Alzheimer’s and this new research will build on these findings.