September 19, 2012, by Emma Thorne

“Bugger off and find a cure!”

He’s renowned for his individual sense of style and is never one to pull his punches. So when novelist Sir Terry Pratchett  bestowed a fellowship in his own name on University of Nottingham scientist Dr Chris Medway for his research into the neurodegenerative condition dementia it was a fair bet that his words of encouragement would be suitably irreverent.

Speaking after a special ceremony yesterday Sir Terry, author of the Discworld series and beloved of fantasty fiction fans the world over, said: “It was good to meet Chris today, an inspiring scientist at the forefront of research. I’d like to congratulate him on receiving his fellowship — now he needs to bugger off and find a cure!”

The Sir Terry Pratchett Fellowship awarded by Alzheimer’s UK, the country’s leading dementia research charity, recognises Dr Medway as one of the most talented young researchers in the UK.

The three-year fellowship, worth £137,445, will see Dr Medway collaborate with leading researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Florida in the largest project of its kind, searching for rare genetic changes that may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The causes of Alzheimer’s are still unknown but researchers believe the disease is likely to be caused by a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors. Although research has previously discovered nine genes that are linked to the disease, these discoveries do not explain all of the genetic changes that may affect our risk.

Using an advanced new technique called Next-Generation Sequencing, Dr Medway aims to reveal much more of the picture. As part of the project, he will travel to his US collaborators’ lab, where he will have access to one of the world’s largest banks of DNA samples with over 10,000 samples available, potentially holding a wealth of information that is waiting to be unlocked. By identifying genes that increase the risk of the disease, researchers can begin to unravel the causes – a vital step for developing effective treatments.

At a special ceremony held yesterday, Sir Terry, who was diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s in 2008 and is a patron of Alzheimer’s Research UK, presented Dr Medway with a glass award to mark his fellowship inscribed with a single word chosen by the author: strive.

Dr Medway said: “I’m thrilled that Alzheimer’s Research UK have chosen to invest in my research and delighted to receive the award from Sir Terry in person. Sir Terry’s work in promoting understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and his support of research has been fantastic, and it’s a real privilege to receive this honour in his name. Alzheimer’s affects so many people, yet we still have no effective treatments to stop the disease in its tracks. Through my research, I hope to uncover new clues about some of the risk factors for the disease and bring new treatments a step closer.”

Sir Terry added: “There’s only two ways it can go: researchers, with as much help as we can give them, may come up with something that reduces the effects of this dreadful, inhuman disease, or we will have to face the consequences of our failure to prevent the final years of many of us being a long bad dream. The strain on carers and their support is bad enough now; before very long the effects on the health service and society itself, will be unbearable.”

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Sir Terry has been hugely influential in our campaign to put dementia research on the agenda. He has donated $1m to our pioneering research and his outspoken support has been a real boost to our work. We’re delighted to be able to fund Dr Medway’s work, which should reveal crucial new information to help the search for new treatments. With 820,000 people in the UK affected by dementia, including over 9,000 people in Nottinghamshire, the need for an effective treatment has never been more urgent – that makes research projects like this one essential.”

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