Could fish oils or aspirin delay dementia? | University of Oxford
Fish oil and aspirin
Fish oil and aspirin

Image credit: Stephen VanHorn and Sascha Burkard via Shutterstock

Could fish oils or aspirin delay dementia?

Tom Calver

On World Alzheimer's Day (21 September), Oxford scientists are beginning a new study in the battle to beat the increasing issue of dementia.

Dementia is a truly global issue and to tackle it, we need a joined-up approach. Oxford is leading the way in dementia research and this funding will help us to continue to make progress for all those affected.

Professor Richard Wade-Martins, Coordinator, Oxford Alzheimer's Research UK Network Centre 

Charity Alzheimer's Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, have increased their support for Oxford dementia research with two awards. One will support the community of dementia researchers in Oxford to work together towards the goal of defeating dementia. The second award will allow a team to study whether taking aspirin and omega-3 fish oils can improve people's memory and thinking skills.

Dementia is one of the greatest challenges facing modern medicine and there are currently 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. For example, Oxfordshire alone has more than 8,000 people with dementia.

In the first ever project awarded by Alzheimer's Research UK's Global Clinical Trials Fund, Professor Jane Armitage at the University of Oxford will study whether aspirin or omega-3 fish oils have an effect on memory and thinking skills in people with diabetes. As an add-on to an existing clinical trial called ASCEND, funded by the British Heart Foundation, Prof Armitage and her team will test the memory and thinking skills in around 10,000 people who have taken aspirin, omega-3 fish oils or a placebo for 6.5 years.

Having poor heart health is associated with an increased risk of dementia, and diabetes is a risk factor for both heart health and dementia. Both aspirin and omega-3 fish oils are thought to reduce complications resulting from poor heart health, such as heart attacks and stroke, but previous studies looking at their effects on memory and thinking have been too small to detect what may be small but worthwhile benefits.

We are beginning to unravel the links between cardiovascular health, diabetes and dementia, and this trial will provide important insight into this relationship.

Professor Jane Armitage, Nuffield Department of Population Health

Prof Jane Armitage explains: 'We are beginning to unravel the links between cardiovascular health, diabetes and dementia, and this trial will provide important insight into this relationship. This is an excellent opportunity to study an existing group of around 10,000 people who have been taking aspirin or omega-3 fish oils for 6.5 years and examine the effects on their memory and thinking skills. Although these drugs are not being investigated for their potential to treat dementia, if they are found to reduce the risk of developing the condition then this could be of significant benefit in supporting healthy ageing.'

Oxford is home to the Alzheimer's Research UK Oxford Research Network Centre. The charity’s Research Network is the largest community of dementia researchers in the UK, with over 1,000 members across 15 virtual Research Centres. Being part of the Network provides researchers with unique access to funding for small grants to support travel, equipment and networking.

Prof Richard Wade-Martins, Coordinator of the Oxford Network Centre, welcomed the new funding. He said: 'We are delighted that Alzheimer's Research UK has continued to support pioneering research in the city. Being part of a UK-wide Network of dementia researchers is a real boost to us, enabling us to collaborate with other scientists and explore new avenues of research. Dementia is a truly global issue and to tackle it, we need a joined-up approach. Oxford is leading the way in dementia research and this funding will help us to continue to make progress for all those affected.'

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'We are dedicated to funding the best minds and forging the most effective partnerships, and so are very glad to be supporting the vital work of scientists in Oxford. There is currently no way to prevent dementia, and so research into the factors that affect a person’s risk of the condition is crucial if we are to help people achieve a better quality of life for longer. Dr Armitage has a wealth of experience of clinical trials relating to diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and it’s fantastic that she is now applying her skills to addressing important questions in dementia research.

'We know that we will not defeat dementia in isolation, which is why initiatives such as the Research Network are crucial to support researchers at a grass-roots level. Sharing of ideas and resources will spur scientists on to think more ambitiously and help us progress faster towards our goal.'