Funding of more than £1.7million will enable researchers at the University of Exeter to set up and lead a new national Dementia Network Plus – one of only four in the country.

The new network will aim to reduce dementia risk and improve people’s experience of living with dementia by supporting new projects and engaging with communities, with hubs in Wales, Scotland and England.

A Dementia Network Plus is a strategic investment by the Economic Social research Council (ESRC), the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and Alzheimer’s Society. The new network, co-led with University College London (UCL) brings together people with dementia with researchers and other communities, to reduce risks and encourage early support in dementia, through innovative research and collaboration.

The University of Exeter-led network is called “Sustainable Prevention, Innovation and INvolvement NETwork (SPIINNET).  Combining research power from 14 universities with specialist organisations, it will bring together individuals living with dementia, carers and family members, researchers, and people working for charities, health and social care services and industries. SPIINNET unites existing networks and umbrella organisations.

SPIINNET will deliver a programme that will use and make connections between the experience, knowledge and resources of people across the network. Activities will include workshops where people can meet to design research projects together, training events, funding innovative ideas, meetings to raise awareness about dementia and prevention, and annual conferences to share learning.

Chris Fox, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of Exeter, who is co-leading the network, said: “We now have high-quality research which indicates that we could prevent up to 40 per cent of dementia by taking meaningful action from mid life. This funding will enable our new Dementia Network Plus to action the latest research both to prevent dementia, and to work with people who have the condition to help them access early support and live the best lives possible.”

Network co-lead Dr Georgina Charlesworth, of UCL, said; “I’m delighted to be co-leading the SPIINNET Dementia Network. I hope that our work over the next four years we will make a meaningful contribution to brain health, especially for those in at-risk or under-represented communities. We look forward to our work with partners across academia, industry, health and social care and the voluntary and charitable sectors.”

SPIINNET will encompass including the NIHR-funded Applied Research Collaboration (ARC), the NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre, the newly funded HealthTech Research Centre and the newly established Policy Research Unit. It will create a mutually responsive ecosystem which can strengthen understanding, involvement, and innovation in dementia prevention research. It aims to develop the quality of experience, effective knowledge and resources of people with dementia, families, communities, the NHS and social care.

In addition to the University of Exeter and UCL, the other universities involved in the project are: Bangor, Cardiff Metropolitan, King’s College London, East Anglia, Northampton, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Southampton, Stirling, Strathclyde, Sunderland and Worcestershire.

Professor Sallie Lamb, Pro-Vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, said: “In the last few years, Exeter has been a lead partner in attracting more than £20 million of Government funding to the South West peninsula, to boost our abilities to translate high-quality research into innovations that will directly benefit peoples’ lives and health. This new network will operate across our centres, using our world-leading expertise to work directly with people who will benefit from measures to prevent dementia, and to get early support once diagnosed.”