The study by Warwick University using data on 53,000 participants in the UK Biobank discovered changes in 11 key proteins could indicate future Alzheimer’s disease
A dementia blood test has been developed which scientists say is 90% accurate at predicting who will be diagnosed with the disease in the next 15 years.
A study led by Warwick University using data on 53,000 Brits discovered that changes in 11 key proteins could indicate the person will develop a form of dementia. It comes amid concerns the NHS is too under-sourced to rollout a dementia blood test if approved by regulators.
Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the university’s department of computer science, said it was a “breakthrough”, adding: “This test could be seamlessly integrated into the NHS and used as a screening tool by GPs.”
An NHS blood test for Alzheimer’s has been the “Holy Grail” for dementia researchers and the study moves the prospect of routine population screening a step closer. Emerging dementia drugs and lifestyle changes could be used on patients for whom irreversible brain damage has not yet ravaged their thinking and memory abilities. Currently standard NHS procedures for dementia diagnosis include extensive cognitive tests and invasive lumbar puncture procedures to test the spinal fluid.
The study, thought to be the largest of its kind, was conducted jointly with Fudan University in China using data on participants in the UK Biobank. It has been published in the journal Nature Aging. Researchers analysed the blood samples from 53,000 healthy people collected between 2006 and 2010. Over a follow-up period of 10 to 15 years 1,400 people went on to develop dementias including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Using artificial intelligence researchers identified 11 proteins in the liquid component of blood known as the plasma which were markers for the biological changes that happen in people who have forms dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. One such protein – known as GFAP – has previously been identified as a potential biomarker in smaller studies. Dr Richard Oakley, associate director at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s very early days and lots more work is needed but this could lay the groundwork for the early prediction of dementia.”
Prof Tara Spires-Jones, President of the British Neuroscience Association, said: “This adds to what we know about changes in blood that occur very early in diseases that cause dementia, which will be important for early diagnosis in the future. However it is important to note that these are still scientific research studies and that there are currently no blood tests available for routine use that can diagnose dementia with certainty.”
It comes as BBC ’s Panorama followed UK participants on major clinical trials into the first two drugs shown to slow the progression of dementia. Previous phases of the trials of Lecanemab and Donanemab showed they slowed the rate of brain deterioration but came with a risk of significant side effects. The show, called Alzheimer’s: A Turning Point, on BBC1 at 8pm on Monday heard how the drugs could be the first of many able to tackle the disease.
Fiona Carragher, director at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer and these first, ground-breaking new treatments are a defining moment in the fight against the devastation it causes. They bring hope that Alzheimer’s disease could one day be considered a long-term condition alongside diabetes or asthma, where people have treatments that allow them to effectively manage their symptoms and continue to live fulfilled lives.
“But only a relatively small number of people will be able to access treatments if we don’t urgently fix dementia diagnosis and gear up the NHS to deliver them. “A third of people living with dementia in the UK do not have a diagnosis, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are not diagnosed early enough to be eligible for these early-stage treatments.
“We need urgent NHS investment in diagnostic equipment and workforce skills so it’s ready to cope with a potential surge in demand for diagnosis and treatment and can deliver these emerging new treatments if they are approved by regulators.” In the UK 944,000 people have dementia and this is expected to rise to more than a million by 2030.