OXFORD researchers have been given a £4m boost to find a way to prevent stroke and dementia.

The money, donated by the Wolfson Foundation, which gives money to research projects, will be used to create a new specialist centre at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital .

Stroke and dementia are the most common disabling neurological conditions and the numbers of individuals affected in the UK continues to rise due to an ageing population.

In Oxfordshire alone, more than 8,000 people will have been diagnosed with dementia by 2016 – a 20 per cent increase from 2010.

The centre will focus on the improvement of routine clinical practice and will be led by Professor Peter Rothwell, whose research has already seen major changes to the treatment and management of stroke and ‘mini-strokes’.

Prof Rothwell said: “Without improved prevention, the number of people aged over 80 years living with dementia or stroke will quadruple by 2050, simply as a consequence of the ageing population.

“Yet if we could delay the average age of onset by just five years, the number of people affected in 2050 could be reduced by almost half.

“We think delays are achievable by better early diagnosis and better use of existing preventative treatments.”

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said: “This investment will help Oxford build on its existing strengths in stroke and dementia research.

“Research into neurological conditions has been comparatively underfunded in recent years in the UK – but these diseases have a devastating impact on individuals and their families.

“We are excited by the possibility for significant advances in understanding these debilitating conditions.”

The funding was last night welcomed by Doug Harbour whose wife was diagnosed with dementia at just 57.

For loved ones of those with the condition, which is more often associated with old age, small comfort can be found in the fact they have had a life fully lived.

But when it strikes in someone barely past middle age, it can seem even more cruel.

Mr Harbour knows that first hand. When he first saw his wife Linda on a train 40 years ago he said he was so taken with her he slipped a love note into her hand, a move which the former baptist minister said was completely out of character for him.

His boldness paid off and the couple, who live in Wallingford, were married a year later, going on to have three children together.

But their happiness was impacted when Mrs Harbour was diagnosed with dementia in 2007.

Mr Harbour, who is supported by support group Young Dementia UK, said he welcomed any funding which could help prevent the condition.

He said: “It would be nice to think that we would have had the benefit of what this will obviously produce.

“We have had the benefit in other ways from expertise already available.”