Wednesday 7 September 2016

World’s most in-depth study to detect early signs of dementia

Experts at the Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre are involved in a new multimillion pound, global study which will see the most thorough tests to detect Alzheimer’s disease performed on volunteers.

The Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) with the hope of dramatically improving the success rate of clinical trials for early signs of dementia and treatments of the condition.

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

Assessing movement and gait

Lynn Rochester, NIHR Newcastle Biomedcial Research Unit’s Neuroimaging and Biomarkers Lead, is leading the part of the project which focuses on people’s movement and gait – the way someone walks.

The human movement laboratory at the Clinical Ageing Research Unit, based at the Campus for Ageing and Vitality, is dedicated to the investigation of gait, balance and mobility.

Volunteers will take part in a test which works by attaching a small monitor to the lower back. The study participant will then wear the monitor for a week as they go about their everyday life and data will be recorded. The test is important as it will pick up subtle changes in a person that the eye might not necessarily detect.

Professor Rochester said: “This has the potential to change dementia research.

“It is the most in-depth study to date to establish the best combination of tests to identify people with Alzheimer’s disease at a very early stage, tracking changes over a short period of time.

“The project is unique because it includes more novel tests such as gait, which has been combined with the use of wearable technology, allowing testing to take place at home and in the clinic.

“We are delighted to be leading on this aspect and to be part of this exciting project.”

Targeting people early

Between 2002 and 2012, 99% of clinical trials into treatments for Alzheimer’s disease failed. A probable reason is that treatments are being tested on those who already have irreparable damage to the brain.  It is likely treatments will be more effective in slowing or stopping the onset of dementia at earlier stages of the disease.

In addition, 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.

Together, the researchers will perform up to 50 tests on 250 volunteers, including new tests never used before to detect dementia.

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 recognise the early stages of the disease and those who may be suitable for trials of possible treatments.

Millions living with dementia

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, rather than slow or stop its progression.

Dr Rob Buckle, director of science programmes at the MRC, said: “Our goal is to find treatments that can slow down or even stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Finding biomarkers for clinical trials is crucial for fast-tracking decisions as to whether a trial should stop or continue, and the faster we can find out which drugs work and which ones don’t, the faster we can benefit patients.

“An ability to deliver more cost-effective clinical trials would also encourage investment and increase the number of such studies in the future.”

Public meeting

Scientists are inviting the public to a free meeting in Newcastle on Wednesday, September 14th, to discuss dementia research. The meeting will include a series of talks from experts, sharing the latest research developments in the laboratory and clinic. For more information click here