Oxford researcher to tackle 100km trek for Alzheimer’s Research UK

An Oxford scientist is gearing up for a gruelling non-stop 100km trek to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Dr Francesca Nicholls, who works at the charity’s Oxford Drug Discovery Institute, will be one of dozens of people taking part in Race the Tide next month, a 30-hour endurance event along the spectacularly beautiful St Cuthbert’s way in Northumbria. She has already raised hundreds to help fund pioneering dementia research, and hopes to boost her fundraising total before the challenge is over.

Race the Tide covers a route stretching from Melrose in the Scottish Borders to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the Northumberland coast. Francesca and her fellow walkers will have 30 hours to complete the 100km challenge before the finishing point is cut off by the incoming tide, walking through the night to reach the finish line.

Francesca, 31, was inspired to sign up for the challenge after seeing first-hand the research supported by the charity. A scientist at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Drug Discovery Institute – which was set up last year to help fast-track the development of new dementia treatments – she knows only too well how vital funding for dementia research is. Francesca and her team are using skin or hair cells donated by people with Alzheimer’s disease that have been transformed into stem cells – cells which can then be turned into any type of cell in the body. By turning these cells into working nerve cells, the team hope to use these as a model to test potential new treatments that could keep nerve cells healthy and functional.

Francesca said:
“I love working at the Drug Discovery Institute and seeing the charity’s funding being put to work. They’ve hired some fantastic people and it’s a really exciting atmosphere where everyone is pulling together to apply the best research techniques to this problem. I’m passionate about finding effective treatments for people with dementia, but since working here I’ve become acutely aware of how much funding is needed, and the fact that the money Alzheimer’s Research UK puts in comes from donations.

“I first heard about the challenge when I was attending the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference in spring, and thought it sounded brilliant. The idea of trying to beat the tide really appealed to me, and so did the fact that it’s a walking challenge, as I’m not really a runner. I moved to Oxford fairly recently so I’ve been training by walking around the Oxfordshire countryside and getting to know the surrounding villages. The training is going well, but I’ve had a lot of blisters and I’ve already worn through a pair of walking boots, which I didn’t think was possible! I enjoy long walks, but when you get past six hours or so you really want to stop, so I’m expecting it to be a real mental challenge, particularly when we’re walking through the night.

“People have been really generous, and I’m sure that’s because so many people are affected by dementia – it really touches a chord with a lot of people and if I can raise a decent amount, it will all be worthwhile.”

Jade Rolph of Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“We’re delighted that Francesca is joining us for Race the Tide – it’s a big challenge but we know it will be a fantastic event with a hugely committed group of fundraisers. The money raised will be able to help provide vital equipment and resources for our scientists, bringing new treatments and preventions for dementia ever closer.

“With 850,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK, including more than 8,000 people in Oxfordshire alone, the need for research to defeat the condition has never been more urgent. Scientists like Francesca are leading the way in the search for new treatments, but we rely on the public to be able to fund this work. It’s thanks to our wonderful supporters that we’re able to continue our pioneering research.”