UK’s brightest young minds meet to unlock dementia

The country’s brightest young minds will come together at UEA this week in a bid to unlock dementia with the power of innovation.

They will study big ‘real world’ data including brain scans, genetic codes and clinical records to tackle one of the biggest healthcare challenges of our time.

The event will bring together more than 50 creative thinkers from a range of backgrounds in a highly-focused three-day hackathon style event.

Dubbed a ‘DPUK datathon’ the event will see data scientists from a range of backgrounds come together to innovate on one of the biggest problems for dementia researchers today – how to identify the earliest signs of the disease.

As well as using traditional statistical techniques, they will use fresh approaches such as machine learning to uncover hidden patterns in cohort data that might identify those at risk of developing dementia.

It is hoped that the event will highlight promising areas for research and pave the way to accelerating new treatments.

The event, which looks set to be the biggest of its kind in the UK, has been organised in partnership with the Alan Turing Institute, Alzheimers Research UK, and Dementias Platform UK.

Event host Dr Saber Sami from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Dementia is one of the largest global health and social crises of the 21st century. It currently affects around 850,000 people across the UK, with an estimated annual cost of £26 billion in the UK alone. The really worrying thing is that dementia is set to more than double nationally by 2050, and the East of England is one of the most affected regions in the UK.

“Scientists are looking for ways to accelerate and innovate dementia research so that the disease can be diagnosed much earlier and prevented from progressing.

“Despite decades of research since the discovery of the Alzheimer’s in 1900 there have been no significant advances in treatment for the disease. Many of those living with dementia find that completely fresh approaches to research is what offers them hope – and the innovative approach at the UEA datathon is what’s particularly exciting.

Dr Sarah Bauermeister, Senior Data Manager at Dementias Platform UK, co-leads the event with Dr Sami. She said: “As the amount of health data available is increasing rapidly, it is becoming vital to innovate in order to make sense of it and gain new insights.

“This event will provide a safe space where dementia researchers and data scientists can collaborate and answer some of the most pressing research questions on dementia.

“Data experts have the keys to some of the biggest health challenges of our time. For instance, the difficulty in understanding the invisible early stages of dementia is one of these biggest barriers to progress in treatment development today. And this is where data experts, irrespective of background, come in.”

Prof John Gallacher, Director of Dementias Platform UK, said: “DPUK datathons are an innovative way of tackling one of the biggest challenges for dementia treatment today – spotting its hard to see early signs. Here at UEA, data scientists are bringing a whole range of diverse skills to the challenge. They’re working in the DPUK Data Portal with some of the most valuable datasets we have available. The innovative approaches these data scientists bring are just the sort of fresh thinking we need in dementia research today.”

As well as analysing the data, attendees will hear from a range of speakers including UEA dementia experts Prof Michael Hornberger and Prof Chris Fox, UEA big data expert Prof Ruth Hancock, representatives from DPUK and the 3 Nations Dementia Working Group.

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