’Hugely thankful for her vision and leadership’

After seven years in post, Professor Julie Williams, Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) at Cardiff University, will be stepping down from her role to concentrate on her dementia research.

The founding director of the Centre, Professor Williams has established the Cardiff UKDRI as an exceptional research facility that has made significant advances in unravelling the complexities of neurodegenerative disease.

Under her leadership, the Centre has attracted over £70m in research funds, and has developed 12 Research Fellows, eight Group Leaders and four Emerging Leaders. It has also trained nearly 60 PhD students, to invest in the future-leaders in dementia research.

Over the last seven years, researchers have:

  • Identified around 100 genes associated with Alzheimer’s risk or earlier onset in Huntington’s disease;
  • Used genomics to identify new patterns in data, identifying those at the highest genetic risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, implicating specific cell types in disease development, and identifying a role for Alzheimer’s risk genes in modifying Parkinson’s;
  • Used genetic discoveries to uncover new disease mechanisms, such as microglial effects on synapses, endocytosis in glial cells, endothelial susceptibility and the complement system in Alzheimer’s, and RNA repair in Huntington’s;
  • Created a bank of 120 induced pluripotent stem cell lines from people with high or low genetic risk to improve modelling of common forms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Professor Williams said: "This is the right time in my career to step aside from my role as Director to concentrate instead on my own research. This move will also give me more space to focus on directing the scientific research funded by the Moondance Foundation in Cardiff.

Professor Williams joined the UK DRI at Cardiff University as Centre Director in 2017, with her reputation as a world-renowned geneticist and former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Welsh Government, supporting her leadership of the centre. Alongside her role within the UK DRI, Professor Williams was also Chief Scientific Advisor to Alzheimer Research UK, a member of the Council of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and their champion in Wales.

From July 2024, Professor Williams will step down as Centre Director, but will continue her association with the Centre, through her scientific programme focused on genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, she will continue to lead the Moondance Dementia Research Laboratory.

Rob Buckle, Chief Science Officer of the Medical Research Council, said: "MRC would like to acknowledge and thank Julie for her tremendous contribution to dementia research, and in particular her significant impact in helping unravel the genetic drivers of neurodegeneration and the mechanistic underpinnings of Alzheimer’s disease. MRC is proud to have supported Julie’s research programmes over a long period of time, and was delighted to see Julie take the helm of the UK DRI at Cardiff at its inception, both in terms of integrating her own research with other exciting developments and interdisciplinary capabilities, but also for her drive in coalescing and building upon the excellent research base available within Cardiff University. The success of the Centre to date is a testament to her leadership."