UK-wide trials to begin on blood tests for diagnosing dementia

May 21, 2024

The trials will capitalise on recent breakthroughs in potential dementia blood tests, and generate the evidence needed for them to be validated for use in the NHS within the next 5 years. 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 settings. They will test multiple existing and novel blood tests, looking at 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 the blood tests can help detect these diseases at various stages. Blood tests are part of the answer to this problem – they’re quick, easy to administer and cheaper than current, more complex tests.

Professor James Rowe from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Cambridge will co-lead a team that will test multiple existing and novel blood tests, looking at a range of types of dementia.

The trials will capitalise on recent breakthroughs in potential dementia blood tests, and generate the evidence needed for them to be validated for use in the NHS within the next 5 years.

The teams from Dementias Platform UK (which includes the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford) and UCL make up the Blood Biomarker Challenge - a multi-million pound award given by Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the National Institute for Health and Care Research and Gates Ventures including £5m raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The project aims to revolutionise dementia diagnosis.

Both teams will recruit participants from sites spread across the country, to ensure their findings are applicable to the whole of the UK’s diverse population.

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 even more imperative if new treatments are approved for use in the NHS, as these work best for people in the earliest stage of their disease.

Currently, people are usually diagnosed using memory tests and brain scans. These are less accurate than ‘gold standard’ tests like PET scans or lumbar punctures, which can confirm what type of dementia they have. However, only 2% of people can access these specialist tests.

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 settings. But they have yet to be tested widely in clinical settings in the UK.

The READ-OUT team (REAl World Dementia OUTcomes) will be led by Professor James Rowe from Cambridge and Drs Vanessa Raymont and Ivan Koychev from Oxford, who are part of Dementias Platform UK. They will test multiple existing and novel blood tests, looking at 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 the blood tests can help detect these diseases at various stages.

Professor Rowe said: “This is a ground-breaking study, to discover the best blood tests for dementia, not just Alzheimer’s but any type of dementia and for anyone, whatever their background age and other health problems. An early accurate diagnosis opens the way to better treatment, support and care. Cambridge researchers will lead the analysis pipeline, and the vital input from patients and families throughout the study.” 

For the first 3 years, READ-OUT will run a fact-finding study that will take blood tests in around 20 Dementias Platform UK sites across the UK, involving 3000 people from diverse populations. In the final 2 years, they will run a clinical trial with 880 people to explore how having a blood test for dementia affects diagnosis and quality of life, patients and carers, impact on care and how the results should be communicated to patients.

Dr Raymont said: “Since I first stepped into a memory clinic 30 years ago there has thankfully been a shift in the way society thinks about dementia. There was previously a feeling that this was just another part of aging, but now we’re seeing that people want to know more about their condition and they want a diagnosis as it helps them access the support they need. Both my parents lived with dementia so I know firsthand the devastation this disease causes, and how a timely and accurate diagnosis can benefit people and their families.”

A second team, ADAPT, will be led by Professor Jonathan Schott and Dr Ashvini Keshavan at UCL and will focus on the most promising biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease, called p-tau217. This reflects levels of two hallmark proteins found inside the brain in Alzheimer’s disease – amyloid and tau. 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, but also in those with mild, progressive problems with memory.

These complementary research approaches will maximise the chances of providing the evidence needed to prove that blood tests are ready for use in the NHS. They will pave the way for them to be made available to all who might benefit within the next 5 years.

Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “At the moment only 2% of people with dementia can access the specialised tests needed to demonstrate eligibility for new treatments, leading to unnecessary delays, worry and uncertainty. Blood tests are part of the answer to this problem – they’re quick, easy to administer and cheaper than current, more complex tests. I’ve spent decades working in research and the NHS and, after years of slow progress, it feels like we’re on the cusp of a new chapter on how we treat dementia in this country.”

Dr Sheona Scales, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It’s fantastic that through collaborating with the leading experts in the dementia community, we can look to bring cutting-edge blood tests for diagnosing dementia within the NHS. And this will be key to widening access to groundbreaking new treatments that are on the horizon.”

For more information about the Blood Biomarker Challenge and how to take part, please visit the Dementia Platforms UK website.

Adapted from a press release from Alzheimer’s Research UK

The source of this news is from University of Cambridge

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