A Southampton scientist has worked with Alzheimer's Research UK, the UK's leading dementia research charity, to create the first ever virtual lab tour. The lab tour is designed to help the public understand how new dementia treatments are developed.
The Lab www.dementialab.org is launched on 21 June and takes visitors on an interactive journey through photo-realistic laboratory and hospital environments to learn about how research into diseases like Alzheimer's takes place.
Over 820,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, including more than 2,000 people in Southampton alone. With over 40 per cent of the UK population knowing someone close with dementia, and support for Alzheimer's Research UK on the rise, interest in dementia science has never been higher.
Alzheimer's Research UK funds more than 20 million pounds of dementia research across the UK - including almost a million pounds at the University of Southampton - and is a leading commentator on new dementia research findings.
A fluorescent image of the brain taken by Dr Cheryl Hawkes, a dementia scientist at the University of Southampton, has been used as part of The Lab to help people understand the importance of looking at proteins in the brain during Alzheimer's.
She comments: "My research is focusing in on the molecular detail of the brain and how this can go wrong in Alzheimer's, but there are lots of different types of research that are all essential to defeating dementia. The Lab helps to explain all of this research, and why it is important, in a really fun and engaging way. It seems that everyone I meet has been touched by dementia in some way and people are so intrigued about research and what we do in the lab. This new website is a great way for people to learn more."
The Lab allows visitors to travel through three main research areas at the scroll of a mouse. Starting with a basic research laboratory, visitors can watch videos and slideshows about how research is funded, and how unravelling the basics of diseases like Alzheimer's and frontotemporal dementia can help in the search for answers. Visitors then fly through the roof of the lab into a second environment, where they can learn about more clinical research such as brain scans, blood tests and how research using animals plays a crucial part in the process. The final stage of the journey takes visitors into a waiting room, with videos and posters explaining how new treatments are tested in people
The Lab also allows visitors to read the latest news stories about research in each of these areas. Visitors can connect using Facebook to share their visit with their friends and make The Lab experience more personally tailored to them.
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Research UK, says: "Surveys into public attitudes around science reveal that while the majority of people agree that we should take an interest in science, many do not understand how scientists go about their work. People tell us that they feel research takes place behind closed doors so we wanted to break down the barriers and help give the public a flavour of what our scientists are up to. The Lab addresses this in a way that means even those who struggle to leave the house can learn about the different kinds of research underway to tackle the devastating diseases that cause dementia."
Carol Franklin-Adams has supported dementia research since her husband Patrick was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2003. She adds: "When Patrick was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's, we felt completely lost. Your first instinct is to collect as much information as possible. Sadly, by finding out more we learnt that there were no effective treatments to slow Alzheimer's and so we became interested in supporting research. I had no idea about research into dementia, apart from the headlines I read in the paper, so The Lab is a great way to learn more. The fact that we can have this experience in our own home, means that we can sit together and see how our support can help others in the future. It is really inspiring."