What is the UK Dementia Research Institute?

The UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) was announced as a central government initiative, with cross party support, as part of the Challenge on Dementia 2020. It operates across six research centres, working towards a shared visit on on finding treatment and cures for dementia. The hub of activities and its operational headquarters are at UCL.

The UK DRI, which is housed temporarily in the Cruciform building on Gower Street, will be under the same roof as UCL’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology.

Why do you need to build a new centre and not use the space you already have?

UCL’s existing facilities around Queen Square and other Bloomsbury sites are old and restrictive. They do not allow for world-leading research and collaboration due to small working areas as opposed to open plan laboratories and areas to interact with neuroscientists and patients. The scheme will provide a specially-designed and purpose-built facility to meet the needs of scientific research today but also in the years to come.

Who is funding the new centre?

The capital cost of the programme will be shared by UCL, the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, the Medical Research Council and philanthropic donations – as well as money raised through the plastic bag tax, by the UCL Dementia Retail Partnership.

Launched in 2016, the UK Dementia Research Institute has received significant investment from three founding partners; the Medical Research Council (MRC), Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The UK Dementia Research Institute is a multimillion-pound investment into neuroscience research, with a landmark £40million awarded for a new hub building on this site. The £40million will contribute to an iconic £250million new building at UCL, which will host the central hub of UK Dementia Research Institute alongside UCL’s world-class Queen Square IoN. The UK Dementia Research Institute is a joint £290million from the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s  Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. 

Why do you need a dedicated dementia research centre?

Disabling neurological conditions affect four million people in the UK and account for about 13% of global disease prevalence, surpassing cardiovascular disease and cancer. In Camden, 1,256 people aged over 65 were diagnosed with dementia in 2016 alone. The annual cost to the UK Economy is estimated to be £112 billion. (More stats available at https://www.dementiastatistics.org/)

Neurological diseases are not only a major killer but they are progressive illnesses that impact over time on resources. Patients who have one neurological disease are also more prone to developing others. These links need to be investigated to help further understanding of these diseases and their treatments.

The centre will focus specifically on brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Neurone Disease, Dementia, Stroke, Epilepsy and Huntington’s Disease.

A dedicated and purpose-built facility will enable clinicians and researchers, including post-doctoral students bringing up-to-date knowledge to the field, to work together using state-of-the-art equipment, work spaces and share knowledge to instigate break-throughs in treatment and care.

The former Royal Free Hospital is an important landmark. Why are you knocking it down?

The Eastman Dental Clinic is Grade II listed and makes a strong contribution to the character of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area. This building would be retained and reused. The former Royal Free Hospital has architectural interest, but has a fragmented history, with elements built at different times and designed by different architects. The primary significance lies in the Alexandra Wing, which fronts onto Gray’s Inn Road. It is proposed to retain the Alexandra Wing and to replace the remainder of the building in order to allow a new building to accommodate the new medical research facility.

We have undertaken a thorough feasibility process to assess a range of options for delivering the brief and the associated benefits in a way that minimises the harm to historic buildings on the site. An assessment of the former Royal Free Hospital buildings has revealed that they are not suitable to meet the needs of a modern research facility. The narrow floorplates and fragmented nature of the internal spaces would inhibit, rather than facilitate, collaboration. The changes in floor levels and confusing orientation that have resulted from the piecemeal development and extensions of the former Royal Free Hospital mean that the buildings fail to meet the requirements for an accessible, inclusive, and dementia-friendly environment that is essential to the success of future research.