A Medical Breakthrough: The Development of Diagnostic Blood Tests for Dementia

Image Credit: Steve Cadman on Wikimedia Commons

In recent good news, researchers at University College London (UCL) and University College London Hospital (UCLH) have secured £3.67m for a nationwide trial which aims to develop diagnostic blood tests to detect dementia.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) and University College London Hospital (UCLH) have secured £3.67m for a nationwide trial which aims to develop diagnostic blood tests to detect dementia. The ADAPT team, led by Professor Jonathan Schott and Dr Ashvini Keshavan, will work on gaining evidence of the tests' performance so they can be introduced into the NHS within the next five years. This represents a promising medical breakthrough given the 55 million people living with dementia worldwide, a figure that is projected to reach 139 million by 2050. 

Dementia is currently diagnosed through cognitive and neurological tests, which examine the patient's skills in memory, attention, language, reasoning, problem-solving, balance and reflexes. An accurate diagnosis requires carrying several of these tests during a prolonged period of time, and is complemented by a PET, CT or MRI scan to detect abnormalities in the brain. With this new trial, earlier detections, interventions and treatment can happen, leading to more effective care for those diagnosed with the disease. 

With this new trial, earlier detections, interventions and treatment can happen, leading to more effective care for those diagnosed with the disease. 

The ADAPT team is a part of the Blood Biomarker challenge and was given a multi-million-pound award by the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Research and Gates Venture. Additionally, they received £5m raised by the People’s Postcode Lottery players. These financial funds will also aid another research team based at the University of Oxford with similar aims and approaches to how the blood test will work by detecting a blood biomarker called p-tau217. P-tau217 indicates the presence of two proteins - amyloid and tau - found within the brain of an individual with Alzheimer's disease. The ADAPT team wants to investigate if testing p-tau217 levels in the blood helps diagnose dementia faster within early-symptom individuals and those with mild to progressive symptoms. 

The test being clinically trialled is expected to have thousands of UK participants. Promising results have been seen in research settings, and similar results are expected for the nationwide trial. Professor Jonathan Schott expresses the importance of this medical research, stating, “An early, accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is already important, allowing people to access appropriate care and medications. If, as we hope, new treatments that can slow down Alzheimer’s disease become available soon, then this will be vital. This would pave the way for fair and equitable access to new and potentially life-changing treatments to all who might benefit.”