North East Wales

Daughter becomes scientist to find Alzheimer's cure

Dr Heledd Griffiths and her father, Gwilym, at a family wedding about a year before his death
Image caption Dr Heledd Griffiths and her father, Gwilym, at a family wedding about a year before his death

A Wrexham scientist whose father had Alzheimer's disease is taking part in a study into the way the condition develops.

Dr Heledd Griffiths, 28, says she was led to research the disease after her father Gwilym was diagnosed in 1998.

The once fit and active man's condition deteriorated until he was in a wheelchair and needed help with most tasks before he died four years ago.

Dr Griffiths is joining a team which has received a £244,926 research grant.

She said: "For my family as a whole, my father's diagnosis was very difficult to come to terms with, especially knowing there was no cure and he was going to get progressively worse.

"Working in the field has allowed me to understand the processes involved in the development of the disease that burdened my father and continues to affect so many others.

"And it has also given me a unique opportunity to be part of a team of researchers working together to find a cure."

She is joining scientists at the University of Leeds who have secured funding from the Alzheimer's Research Trust to investigate the relationships between two proteins - amyloid, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer's, and prion.

Experts already know that in Alzheimer's, amyloid builds up in the brain, causing brain cells to die. But recent research shows the protein attaches to prion before it inflicts its damage.

Image caption An early photo of a young Heledd with her father, Gwilym, when he was 72.

The researchers will try to understand how this happens, and what role the prion protein plays in Alzheimer's.

One of the lead scientists, Prof Nigel Hooper, from Leeds' faculty of biological sciences, said: "Our team has already been able to see an interaction between amyloid and prion, and we now want to monitor exactly what is happening and what the consequence of that interaction is.

"Ultimately, we hope this study will tell us more about possible drug targets, taking us a step closer to finding a way to stop the disease in its tracks."

There are 820,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with 1,600 reported cases in Wrexham.

Dr Griffiths' father, Gwilym, who was diagnosed with multi-infarct dementia and Alzheimer's disease, died when he was 85.

"Having such a close, young family helped us get through the difficult times," said Dr Griffiths, one of three sisters.

"I think the love that we showed him kept a little part of him alive.

"I know my dad still knew who we were, even if he couldn't remember our names.

"A squeeze of the hand or the occasional knowing look was enough to know he was still in there somewhere."

The Alzheimer's Research Trust is currently supporting 124 projects at UK universities.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "With dementia affecting more than 1,600 people in Wrexham alone, the need to act has never been more urgent, and investing in more research is the only way we will combat the condition."

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