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Researchers in Oxford have begun screening participants in DPUK’s Deep and Frequent Phenotyping (DFP) study – the world’s most detailed study into early Alzheimer’s disease.

Study volunteer Gillian Brown talks to trial co-ordinator Tony Thayanandan.
Study volunteer Gillian Brown talks to DFP trial co-ordinator Tony Thayanandan.

Launched last month, the DFP study is jointly funded by the MRC and NIHR, and aims to tackle the challenge of diagnosing and tracking Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages – often decades before symptoms start to show.

DFP will recruit 250 participants from across the UK who are over 60 and in good health, but with a family history of dementia. Volunteers will undergo a range of existing and novel tests over a year-long period, including brain scans, cognitive and memory tests, scans of brain magnetic fields, retinal imaging, blood tests, and the use of wearable technology to measure movement, gait and ongoing cognitive abilities.

This will be the most comprehensive set of assessments ever completed in this group of people. Data from the study will be made available to researchers via the secure DPUK Data Portal.

By providing this data, participants will help DPUK scientists in their quest to identify the best early warning signs of this devastating disease – a crucial step towards prevention – as well as helping track response to treatments, which has been missing to date.

Recruitment and testing will take place at various locations around the UK, and researchers are currently seeking participants in the Oxford area.

Dr Vanessa Raymont, of DPUK and Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, is chief investigator of the DFP study. She said: ‘Many trials of new Alzheimer’s treatments fail because they aren’t delivered early enough in the disease process. The DFP study has been developed to address this problem by identifying better and earlier signs of Alzheimer’s progression, that can also be used to track response to new treatments.

‘What makes DFP unique is – as the name of the study suggests – the depth and frequency of the tests we’ll be carrying out to chart the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Volunteers who are eligible to take part in the study will undergo a range of assessments, generating a huge amount of data that we hope can be used to assist with the early detection of Alzheimer’s and the development of new drugs.’

Gillian Brown (64), from Banbury in Oxfordshire, was the first participant to arrive for initial screening tests at the NIHR Oxford Cognitive Health Clinical Research Facility at the Warneford Hospital. She said: ‘I volunteered for this study to help other people. My mother had dementia, and in the end she just didn’t know me. The thought of losing my own memory terrifies me, and I don’t want my children or anyone else having to see their parents or grandparents deteriorate.’

Gillian’s first visit included blood tests to determine her genotype (DFP researchers are looking for a ‘risk’ gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease called ApoE4). The screening phase will conclude with a PET brain scan, after which researchers will know whether Gillian is a suitable participant for the full study.

Gillian added: ‘It’s not a huge time commitment, and if you want to help fight dementia then this is one of the best ways to do it.’

For more information on the DFP study, visit the study website.