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Dementias Platform UK has been awarded over £4 million to carry out countrywide trials to identify accurate and quick blood tests that can diagnose dementia, in a bid to improve the UK’s shocking diagnosis rate.

DPUK is one of two world-class research teams making up the Blood Biomarker Challenge - a multi-million pound award given by Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the National Institute for Health and Care Research and Gates Ventures including £5m raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The project aims to revolutionise dementia diagnosis.

The research will focus on biomarkers, proteins, and generate the evidence needed for them to be validated for use in blood tests for the NHS within the next 5 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. But they have yet to be tested widely in clinical settings in the UK.

The DPUK project, READ-OUT is led by Dr Vanessa Raymont, Professor James Rowe and Dr Ivan Koychev with Dementias Platform UK researchers at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. They will test 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.

Dr Vanessa Raymont, Associate Director, Dementias Platform UK and Senior Clinical Researcher, University of Oxford, said:

Since I first stepped into a memory clinic 30 years ago there has thankfully been a shift in the way society thinks about dementia. There was previously a feeling that this was just another part of aging, but now we’re seeing that people want to know more about their condition and they want a diagnosis as it helps them access the support they need. Both my parents lived with dementia so I know first hand the devastation this disease causes, and how a timely and accurate diagnosis can benefit people and their families.”

At University College London, Professor Jonathan Schott and Dr Ashvini Kesavan will lead a second team – ADAPT. It is going to take a different approach, focusing on the most promising biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease, called p-tau217. Their researchers will carry out a clinical trial to see whether measuring p-tau217 in the blood increases the rate of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease both in people with early dementia, but also in those with mild, progressive problems with memory.

 These complementary research approaches will maximise the chances of providing the evidence needed to prove that blood tests are ready for use in the NHS. They will pave the way for them to be made available to all who might benefit within the next 5 years.

 With more than half of all local authority districts in England failing to meet the government’s target dementia diagnosis rate of 66.7%, and with new drugs on the horizon which appear to slow early Alzheimer’s disease, experts from both charities and the research teams agree that change is needed.

Dr Sheona Scales, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We’ve seen the enormous potential that blood tests are showing for improving the diagnostic process for people and their loved ones in other disease areas. Now we need to see this same step-change in dementia, which is the greatest health challenge facing the UK.

 “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.”

DPUK already has a study, FAST, looking into blood biomarkers which has volunteers attending the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and expects participants for Oxford sites to be part of the Blood Biomarkers Challenge.