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Dementias Platform UK has been awarded over £4 million to carry out countrywide trials to identify accurate and quick blood tests that can diagnose dementia, in a bid to improve management and patient and carer wellbeing. RDM's Diabetes Trials Unit will run the clinical trial component of the challenge.

A woman having her blood taken

The Diabetes Trials Unit will be responsible for designing and running the clinical trial in years 4 and 5 of this project. The trial will determine the impact of disclosing results of blood based-biomarkers to clinicians and patients - compared with measuring the biomarkers but not disclosing them - on health-related quality of life. Working with health economists from HERC - Oxford’s Health Economic Research Centre, the trial will also address whether disclosing results is value for money for the NHS.

Amanda Adler, Director of the Diabetes Trials Unit and co-investigator on this project, said: “This trial is an opportunity to improve the care of people with cognitive impairment while potentially changing practice by displacing more expensive, invasive, and cumbersome tests.”

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 per cent 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.

World-class research teams at Dementias Platform UK based at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, and University College London will capitalise on recent breakthroughs in potential dementia blood tests, and generate the evidence needed for them to be used in the NHS within the next five years.

The teams 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 Research and Gates Ventures including £5 million 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.

Dr Vanessa Raymont, Associate Director, Dementias Platform UK and Senior Clinical Researcher, University of Oxford, 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 first-hand the devastation this disease causes, and how a timely and accurate diagnosis can benefit people and their families.”

Professor Jonathan Schott, Alzheimer’s Research UK Chief Medical Officer and Professor of Neurology, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, said: “An early, accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is already important, allowing people to access to 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.”

Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer, yet a third of people living with dementia don’t have a diagnosis, which means they’re not able to access care and support. An early and accurate diagnosis is also going to be vital in the future for identifying people who are most likely to benefit from new treatments, which are now within reach.

“At the moment only 2% of people with dementia can access the specialised tests needed for a diagnosis, 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: “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.

“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 ground-breaking new treatments that are on the horizon.”

More information about the Blood Biomarker Challenge and how to take part.