The need for a interdisciplinary dementia and ageing centre
The South Coast is a region with an ageing population. Demographic pressures over the next 20 years will increase pressure on clinical services. Research into brain ageing and dementia is crucial, but needs to integrate advances across disciplines and be focused along the entire length of the clinical pathway: from biology through clinical and social care to system management at scale. New insights will come from the interface between disciplines thinking differently about dementia and brain ageing. In Southampton, all the elements are already in place. iDeAC, the Interdisciplinary Dementia and Ageing Centre aims to focus and energise these efforts by supporting researchers and clinicians and making interdisciplinary collaboration easy, capable and effective.
During the Spring of 2019, a series of meetings were held to develop the appetite, themes and strategy for an Interdisciplinary Dementia and Ageing Centre in Southampton. It was clear from the outset that there was huge enthusiasm for this, a wealth of untapped resources, and above all strength in people, facilities and ideas. In a sense, iDeAC existed from the start! National policy drivers supporting this effort include the Life Sciences Strategy and the NHS Long Term plan. Locally, The University of Southampton seeks to grow interdisciplinary research, and University Hospital Southampton wishes to work with partners to realize the benefits of research for its patients and staff. As part of its Life Sciences Strategy, the Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS) aims to build interconnected networks and facilitate fusions of research expertise to address key health and societal issues. Within the Faculty of Medicine, work on Healthy Ageing is a key strategic endeavour, and a range of cross-cutting themes are directly related to work that will be facilitated by iDeAC.
Formation of a south coast interdisciplinary dementia and ageing centre
iDeAC emerged from the people that already work in the area of dementia and brain ageing in Southampton. The key purpose defined by groups during the series of workshops was to promote the sharing of expertise in a learning environment, and to create an integrated hub for collaboration and innovation. Working together on ideas across disciplines and building strategic partnerships to bid successfully for funding opportunities are key outcomes for the group.
‘The strength in iDeAC is the close collaboration between academics (who are testing ideas), NHS staff (who are involved in day to day diagnosis and care), engineers (for technological development and modelling), mathematicians (for modelling processes that cannot be seen with any current method) and industry (who develop new treatments)’
The success of iDeAC will come from its success in attracting funding to support its members. There are a range of stakeholders across the region and beyond who may benefit from iDeAC; from the outset our work will seek to be aligned with their objectives. There is enormous growth in funding for dementia and brain ageing research, and we aim to ensure that we attract this to Southampton. Our success in 5 years time will be measured by the increase in funding and capacity we achieve for interdisciplinary research in this field.
A number of natural areas of focus emerged from the strategy development across 4 basic themes: basic and translational science, clinical diagnosis and prognosis, clinical trials, community and postdiagnostic care. Southampton has strong vascular, neuro-inflammation and dementia biology research. Within clinical diagnosis, neuropathology, neuropsychology and clinical diagnostics are world class. Our imaging capability, for tissue and clinical diagnostics are strong and highly capable. We have highly experienced clinical trials groups in the region, with researchers participating in cutting edge clinical trials in all dementias. Southampton hosts the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Training Centre, and will be the Dementia and Ageing Lead within the new NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC). New digital care delivery developed by University Hospital Southampton (My Medical Record) is part of the Dept. of Health Digital Exemplar programme.
To be successful, iDeAC needs a secure organizational framework. The group will be lead by an executive group together with subtheme and focus area leads. The arrangements will evolve during the first three years. The core purpose of the combined leadership team is to develop the iDeAC brand to support and attract external funding support for the group to become self sustaining. An ambition to host a programme grant is a key part of the iDeAC strategy.