The NHS will be conducting trials for uncomplicated blood exams to detect dementia.
Researchers will start implementing basic blood exams for diagnosing dementia, potentially transforming how the illness is identified. This could result in individuals receiving a diagnosis from the NHS in a matter of seconds within the next five years.
At present in the United Kingdom, receiving an official diagnosis typically involves undergoing cognitive assessments, undergoing brain imaging, or undergoing invasive and uncomfortable lumbar punctures, in which cerebrospinal fluid is extracted from the lower back.
Charities report that patients and their loved ones have to wait an average of four years for an appointment and to receive the results. In England, over 30% of individuals with dementia still have not been officially diagnosed.
A group of scientists, supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, has initiated a £5m venture to test uncomplicated blood tests within the NHS, in an effort to expedite diagnosis and reach a larger population. Their goal is to accurately identify the presence of the disease using just a small amount of blood.
Private clinics in the US and Hong Kong currently provide blood tests for dementia at a cost of £693. These tests can detect the disease up to 10 years before symptoms appear.
The UK’s researchers leading this project state that further efforts are necessary to ensure that the tests accurately measure the correct combination of biomarkers and do not give incorrect results, either confirming or ruling out the disease.
The number of people in the UK who are affected by dementia is approximately 900,000. It is projected that this number will increase to 1.4 million by the year 2040.
Thanks to support from the People’s Postcode Lottery, the team is collaborating with the National Institute for Health and Care Research to bring accurate blood tests for dementia to the NHS.
Several tests are currently being researched, including ones that detect certain proteins that precede the onset of dementia symptoms. The companies Roche and Eli Lilly have announced a collaboration to create a blood test for dementia.
The urgency for utilizing blood tests for diagnosing Alzheimer’s has increased due to the discovery of the medications donanemab and lecanemab, which have been shown to delay cognitive decline.
At a briefing in London, Fiona Carragher, the Director of Research and Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, stated that certain individuals are experiencing “devastating” delays of up to four years before receiving a diagnosis, resulting in hundreds of thousands of individuals remaining undiagnosed.
“According to her, approximately 40% of individuals in the UK with dementia have not been officially diagnosed. Furthermore, those who have received a diagnosis often had to wait several months, if not years, to receive it. As a result, many families are left in a state of uncertainty, struggling to cope with symptoms and plan for the future without the necessary care and support that a diagnosis can provide.”
In the near future, there will be new medications available for treating early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. However, individuals will not be able to obtain them if they do not receive a diagnosis.
According to her, creating a blood test that can be used by the NHS within the next five years is crucial in order for as many individuals as possible to benefit from the innovative treatments that are on the horizon.
According to Carragher, this has the potential to completely transform the diagnosis of dementia and speed up the development of a blood test for dementia in UK healthcare systems. It’s a significant victory in the battle against this debilitating illness.
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, the executive director of research and partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the briefing: “We expect more people to be coming forward for diagnosis, we expect them to be coming forward at a younger age and we expect them to be coming forward with less obvious symptoms. We need better, more scalable tests that are also accurate and compare to current gold-standard methods.
The NHS requires a substantial amount of funding to enhance its capabilities in detecting dementia at an earlier stage. Cost-effective methods such as non-invasive blood tests, which are easier to administer compared to the current standard methods, are the solution. However, it is crucial to test these methods in real-life situations within the NHS rather than just in a laboratory setting.