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Last month, dementia researchers from around the world flocked to San Diego for the latest edition of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) – the world’s biggest dementia research conference. Among the attendees was Dr Ludovica Griffanti, an Alzheimer’s Association Research Fellow at Oxford University who co-leads DPUK’s imaging pipelines project. On World Alzheimer’s Day 2022, Dr Griffanti picks out some of her highlights from the packed conference programme.

Image of San Diego Bay with (inset) Dr Ludovica Griffanti and the AAIC logo

1. Alzheimer’s blood tests

In one of the key papers presented at the conference, an international team of clinicians and researchers found that Alzheimer’s disease blood biomarkers are already improving the design of clinical trials and have the potential to revolutionise the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in the future, but are not yet ready for widespread clinical use.

2. Long-term data collection

The Alzheimer’s Network for Treatment and Diagnostics (ALZ-NET) was officially launched at AAIC. ALZ-NET is a new platform that will collect long-term clinical and safety data from patients treated with FDA-approved Alzheimer’s disease therapies in real-world clinical settings. Its goal is to improve patient care and outcomes by tracking how people from all backgrounds and communities respond to new treatments.

3. New clinical trial results

Results from a variety of clinical trials addressing multiple aspects Alzheimer’s disease were presented at the conference. One of those studies was EXERT – the longest-ever Phase 3 study of exercise in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The findings suggest that regular physical activity – even modest or low-exertion activity such as stretching – may protect against cognitive decline.

4. Communicating with trial participants

A working group convened by the Alzheimer’s Association found that participants in clinical trials can feel abandoned and adrift when their studies end early and they are the last to be informed, or they hear about it first from news or social media. The group presented 17 recommendations for clinical trial sponsors, researchers and staff about how to better communicate with study participants when trials stop sooner than expected.

5. Under-representation in research

AAIC was noteworthy for a range of studies looking at how to address under-representation in dementia research – from recruiting people with co-morbidities that are more representative than ‘pure diagnosis’ groups, to lots of studies exploring the experience of people from minority ethnic groups or the social and economic determinants of health outcomes.

The Life After 90 study, for example, explained the lessons learned from recruiting an ethnically diverse group into research. Several studies, meanwhile, reported that socioeconomic deprivation is associated with higher dementia risk, lower cognitive performance and faster memory decline. And experiences of structural, interpersonal and institutional racism are associated with lower memory scores and worse cognition in midlife and old age – especially among people from Black backgrounds.

At the conference, Dr Griffanti presented her own research featuring imaging data from the Oxford Brain Health Clinic, a joint clinical-research service that provides a representative sample of memory clinic patients.

She also co-leads, with Professor Clare Mackay, a research project aiming to provide rapid and standardised brain MRI pre-processing for research datasets, making imaging datasets more accessible for analysts and facilitating multi-cohort studies.