“She attended our wedding in 2017 and had a fantastic day but the next day she had no recollection of having been there. Huge life events can be erased in an instant by Alzheimer’s disease. If you have heart disease or cancer, the physical effects on your body are appalling but you’re still the same person, whereas Alzheimer’s robs you of yourself, which I find especially cruel,” explains Durrant. “I’ve always been interested in the brain and how it works so it made sense for me to put my knowledge and energy towards trying to defeat one of the worst diseases I can think of.”
Fortunately for all of us, Durrant and her generation of scientists is likely to be the first in with a chance of doing so, and that’s largely thanks to Race Against Dementia’s innovative approach to backing young scientists for five-year periods, instead of the standard three.
“Five years makes a huge difference because it allows us to take more risks. If you have a three-year deadline, you need to do a safe project because it’s going to be productive and help you move on to your next job. But safe projects don’t cure Alzheimer’s. You need someone to say: ‘Right, we’re going to try something that would normally be considered very high risk and very difficult but we’re going to spend five years having a go.’ And that’s what Sir Jackie has done.”
Race Against Dementia is one of four charities supported by this year’s Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal, and money raised will ensure that Claire and her fellow pioneers are able to develop their groundbreaking work.
Where traditional research careers have often pitted scientists against one another, Race Against Dementia is committed to bringing the best brains together. Every summer, Durrant attends a ‘summer school’ at Silverstone race track, where she and other researchers share their knowledge and look at ways they can collaborate. “There’s not going to be one person who cures Alzhiemer’s, it’s going to be a team of the best scientists,” she says. “Every time I come away feeling so energised, thinking that we need to work differently, harder and faster.”
While she hesitates to use the words “magic bullet”, Durrant says that what happened with the Covid vaccine proves what’s possible when money is funnelled into science in the right way. “More teams like mine working on high risk, high reward projects gives us more shots on goal, more chances to stop people from developing dementia in the first place.”
Race Against Dementia is one of four charities supported by this year’s Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal. The others are Go Beyond, the RAF Benevolent Fund and Marie Curie. To make a donation, please visitor call 0151 284 1927