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NHS trialling blood tests for dementia

Two expert research teams, one from University College London and the other from Dementias Platform UK at the University of Oxford, will conduct UK-wide clinical trials to identify blood tests to boost dementia diagnosis.

It is hoped that the research will lead to blood tests for diagnosing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia on the NHS within five years. Timely and accurate diagnosis of the diseases that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, is crucial, as it means people can access vital care and support and take part in medical research. This will be imperative if new treatments such as lecanemab and donanemab are approved for use in the NHS, as these work best for people in the earliest stage of their disease.

According to NHS England, less than two-thirds of people in England with dementia have a formal diagnosis. The most recent Memory Assessment Services Audit shows only 2% of people who receive a dementia diagnosis are diagnosed using ‘gold standard’ tests like PET scans and lumbar punctures, which allow diseases like Alzheimer’s to be definitively identified.

The research studies, which will begin recruiting participants soon, are funded by the Blood Biomarker Challenge – a multi-million-pound award given by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society, the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and Gates Ventures (the private office of Bill Gates), including £5m raised by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Commenting on the news, Dr Sheona Scales, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “We’ve seen the enormous potential that blood tests are showing for improving the diagnostic process for people and their loved ones in other disease areas. Now we need to see this same step-change in dementia, which is the greatest health challenge facing the UK.’’

In recent years, a number of different blood tests that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia have shown very promising results in research studies. But they have yet to be tested widely in ‘real life’ populations in the UK.

The two studies will take complementary approaches. The READ-OUT study will be led by Dr Vanessa Raymont, Associate Director of Dementias Platform UK and a clinical researcher based at the University of Oxford. Her team will test multiple existing and novel blood tests for a range of types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies. The researchers will also look at whether these blood tests can help detect these diseases at various stages.

The second study will be led by Professor Jonathan Schott and Dr Ashvini Keshavan, who are both based at University College London. Their study, ADAPT, will focus on the most promising test for Alzheimer’s disease, which measures levels of a protein called p-tau217. This increases in the blood as other proteins build up in the brain during the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers will carry out a clinical trial to see whether measuring p-tau217 in the blood increases the rate of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease both in people with early dementia. It will also involve those with mild, progressive problems with memory.

 

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