A new five-year project has been launched with the aim of developing a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease for the NHS.
The Blood Biomarker Challenge is a £5 million project led by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The project’s funds have been raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
The project will involve working with world-class researchers to pilot the implementation of new blood tests in the NHS that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier and more accurately than current methods. At present, diagnosing people with Alzheimer’s can be tricky and relies on brain imaging or lumbar punctures that can be, “invasive and come with uncomfortable side effects” said Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Executive Director of Research and Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK.
According to NHS England, less than two-thirds of people in England with dementia have a formal diagnosis and those who do get a diagnosis can face long waits, up to four years for patients aged under 65.
“We’re sitting on the cusp of a new era of dementia treatments, and doctors are likely going to see more people coming forward for a diagnosis. But the NHS doesn’t possess the required levels of diagnostic infrastructure to cope with this growing demand” said Kohlhaas. “Low-cost tools like blood tests that are non-invasive and simpler to administer than current gold standard methods are the answer to this.”
A range of blood tests for Alzheimer’s are currently in the research stages, including those looking for specific proteins, such as amyloid and tau (which forms filaments inside nerve cells pictured), that occur before dementia symptoms appear. But no test is currently clinically validated in the UK, or available to patients in the NHS.
Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, said introducing a blood test for dementia into UK healthcare systems would be “a truly game-changing win in the fight against this devastating disease.”
More information about the project, including the researchers who will be involved, will be announced in January.