A new multimillion pound study, which will see the most thorough and rigorous series of tests to detect Alzheimer’s disease ever performed on volunteers, is announced today.  The Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study is funded by the National Institute of Health Research and the MRC and hopes to dramatically improve the success rate of clinical trials for treatments in Alzheimer’s disease.

 

This landmark £6.9million research project has been designed to identify measureable  characteristics, known as biomarkers, which can detect the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease very early on in the progression of the disease – when a person may have no obvious symptoms.

 

Between 2002 and 2012, 99% of clinical trials into treatments for Alzheimer’s disease failed. A probable reason for the high failure rate is that treatments are being tested on those who already have irreparable damage to the brain.  It is likely that treatments will be more effective in slowing or stopping further at onset of dementia at earlier stages of the disease. Also, by targeting people in the earlier stages, it should be possible to design better clinical trials for treatments that make a real difference and improve people’s lives.

 

The multisite team, led by the University of Oxford, will work with colleagues at eight UK universities and the Alzheimer’s Society, with the project also receiving support from a coalition of biopharma companies (a full list of partners can be found here).

 

Together, the researchers will perform up to 50 tests on 250 volunteers from Dementias Platform UK cohorts, including new tests that have never been used before to detect dementia. The tests will include wearable devices that will give researchers detailed information on people’s movement and gait, and sophisticated retinal imaging that will look at subtle changes affecting a person’s central and peripheral vision.

 

These potential new biomarkers will be used alone and alongside tests such as brain imaging and assessment of memory and other cognitive functions. They will allow the researchers to recognize the early stages of the disease and those who may be suitable for trials of possible treatments.

 

An estimated 46.8m people worldwide were living with dementia in 2015, and with an ageing population in most developed countries, predictions suggest this number may double by 2050. Currently, there is no known cure for the disease, and few treatments which are available treat symptoms of the disease, rather than slow or stop its progression.

 

Professor Simon Lovestone, lead researcher and Professor of Translational Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said:

“We know that Alzheimer’s disease starts long before it is noticed by those with the disease or their doctor. Previous studies have shown changes to the brain as early as 10 to 20 years before symptoms arise. If we can identify the biomarkers present in this very early stage, we have the chance of treating the disease earlier, which is vital if we are to prevent damage to people’s memory and thinking. We’re indebted to those volunteers taking part in the study whose time and effort will make a real difference to our ability to diagnosis and treat this disease.”

 

Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health, Professor Chris Whitty, said:

“By working together, the National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council are leading the way on new and potentially important treatments for dementia. This important study will hopefully encourage more people to take part in our high quality research to help uncover more insight into causes and possible solutions for dementia.”

 

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, said:

“Dementia can be a heart-breaking condition, but it is my mission as Health Secretary to make this country the best place in the world to get a dementia diagnosis and support, as well as being a global leader in the effort to find a cure.  This extra investment is a vital step forwards towards that goal.”

 

The Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study will recruit 250 volunteers from existing study cohorts led by the Dementias Platform UK, and tests will be carried out over the course of 12 months. Anyone wanting to find out more about this study should visit the Medical Research Council website.


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