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East of England researchers join UK trial of blood tests for diagnosing dementia

Picture of a blood sample for biomarker research being taken.

Researchers at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) and the University of Cambridge are co-leading national trials to identify accurate and rapid blood tests that can help to diagnose dementia.

Timely and accurate diagnosis is crucial to help people access vital care and support, including potential new treatments if they are approved for use in the NHS, as these work best for people in the earliest stages of dementia.

Currently, people are usually diagnosed using memory tests and brain scans. These are less accurate than ‘gold standard’ specialist tests like PET scans or lumbar punctures, which can confirm what type of dementia they have, but these are not always available and can be difficult for people to tolerate.

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 now need to be tested widely in clinical settings in the UK to prove if they are suitable for use in the NHS.

CPFT researchers have joined the Dementias Platform UK teams from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford working on the Blood Biomarker Challenge - a multi-million pound project funded by Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and Gates Ventures, including £5m raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. This project aims to revolutionise dementia diagnosis over five years.

As one of 53 sites running the trials, CPFT will be offering the chance to take part in this research to people visiting their memory clinics, as well as leading national work with people and their families to ensure results are communicated in a clear and helpful way.

CPFT’s Research and Development Director Dr Ben Underwood is the Principal Investigator for the Trust and co-applicant on the national research grant. Ben said:

“It’s really exciting to bring this transformative research opportunity to people at CPFT. These blood tests perform very well in limited study populations. We will now be testing them in real world clinical populations, including very elderly, different ethnic groups, rare dementias and those with multiple health conditions. It's an essential step towards improving diagnosis in memory clinics and helping people access the right care and support as soon as possible.”

Ben is working with Professor James Rowe from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, who is co-leading the national READ-OUT team (REAl World Dementia OUTcomes) with Oxford University trialling 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 three 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 two 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 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.