SOUTHAMPTON scientists have launched a project that could help slow down the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

A team from the University of Southampton has been awarded more than £300,000 for the three-year scheme, which will investigate a possible link between common infections and the disease.

The research aims to discover whether inflammation caused by illnesses including urinary or chest infections can make Alzheimer’s develop faster.

Southampton scientists believe that while the immune system usually plays a vital role in protecting our bodies from damage, it could do more harm than good to dementia patients.

The team will examine brain tissue donated by people with the condition, looking at the changes in the brains of those who had infections when they died, compared to those who did not.

There are currently more than 2,000 Southampton residents living with the disease.

Dr Delphine Boche, lecturer in clinical neurosciences at the University of Southampton, is leading the study.

She said: “Many of the known risk factors for Alzheimer’s, like age, obesity and diabetes increase inflammation in the brain and we think that infections could be another risk factor.

“There is already evidence that the immune system is on high alert in people with Alzheimer’s and we think that an extra trigger, like an infection, could tip the balance and make immune cells switch from being protective to harmful.

“The findings could have important implications both for our understanding of the disease and for the management of healthcare in the elderly.”

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, which has sponsored the project, said: “Slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s could have a huge impact on families and allow people more valuable time with their loved ones.

“Only by understanding the factors that drive the disease, can we develop new and innovative ways to slow it down."