Dame Barbara Windsor’s widow named People’s Champion for dementia initiative

A ‘mission’ set up in the name of the late actress Barbara Windsor has named her widow, Scott Mitchell, as it’s People’s Champion and committed to £6m of funding into neurodegenerative research. It is hoped the funds will speed up the development of research and treatment for dementia. 

The ‘Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission’ was launched in August 2022 and is part of the government’s stated commitment to double dementia research funding by 2025. Co-Chairs, Hilary Evans and Nadeem Sarwar, were appointed in March 2023. The £6 million announced today will be used to ‘boost clinical trials and innovation, including work in Northern Ireland on how AI can be used to support dementia diagnosis, and research in Scotland looking at how ‘biomarkers’ found in blood can help detect the disease early’ say the government. Current trials and research include looking at how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the accuracy of blood tests for dementia; and using retinal scans to detect early-onset dementia before symptoms. It is hoped funding will hit £160m a year by 2025.

A Scientific Advisory Board is being set up to deliver on a ‘Neurodegeneration Initiative,’set up to provide industry and academia with the tools to speed up and increase the number of clinical trials.

Commenting on his appointment, Scott Mitchell said:

“I am honoured to be appointed as the People’s Champion of the Dame Barbara Windsor Dementia Mission, that was named after my late wife. She lived an extraordinary life, and her brave campaigning made a powerful impact on so many others who were going through the same.”

“I want to keep her story alive and help bring to light the stories of so many others who are affected by this terrible disease. I want to use this role to ensure that the path of the Dementia Mission puts people at its heart, so that together we can tackle dementia and have a positive impact on all those affected.”

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said:

“Dementia is an incredibly cruel disease, and as the leading cause of death in the UK nearly every family is affected by it in some way. Dame Barbara’s brave campaigning, supported by her husband Scott Mitchell, made that devastating impact powerfully clear to everyone.”

“As a life sciences world leader, the UK is uniquely placed to make a difference in the fight against dementia, and by bringing academia, industry, the NHS and those with lived experience together we are determined to do just that. Now we need to keep mobilising the resources needed to fuel this vital work – from the funds raised by charities large and small, to the industry backing that’s crucial to delivering more breakthroughs.”

Chair of the ‘Neurodegeneration Initiative’ Dr Ruth McKernan CBE, a former Senior Vice President at Pfizer and former Executive Chair at Innovate UK, added:

“I am delighted to take on the role of the Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board. This initiative, working collectively, is poised to make a great impact; we now have the first drugs to show that Alzheimer’s is a modifiable disease and there are more than 100 different drugs in various stages of clinical trials. The biomarker work in particular should help us match each patient to the best emerging therapies for their neurodegenerative disorder.”

On this latest announcement, Alzheimer’s Society CEO, Kate Lee, said

“Scott Mitchell and Dame Barbara Windsor’s candid sharing of their experiences have brought much-needed attention to dementia, the UK’s biggest killer.”

“It’s really important that people living with dementia are at the heart of research, so the appointment of a People’s Champion to the Mission is excellent news and signals a very welcome focus on emphasizing the importance of involving those directly affected by the condition. The advent of new treatments brings tangible hope and will change how dementia is viewed by society and our healthcare system. Through decisive and prompt action from the government and NHS, we have the opportunity to revolutionise how dementia is diagnosed and managed.”

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