Blood tests that spot Alzheimer’s could be rolled out on the NHS within six years, experts have claimed.
Influential voices in the field believe such a test will be a ‘genuine game-changer’, ending the ‘diagnostic odyssey’ sufferers currently face.
Currently the cruel, memory-robbing disorder is only detected through a series of mental tests, scans and appointments in an arduous process which can take up to four years.
It comes as two major charities today launched an ambitious new project intended to overcome hurdles experimental Alzheimer’s blood tests have so far faced.
The trial, announced by the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, was made possible by a £5million donation from People’s Postcode Lottery.
Experts say the £5million donation could help provide a genuine gamechanger for how Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in the UK
Fiona Carragher, the Alzheimer’s Society’s director of research and influencing, told MailOnline the gift was ‘really exciting’.
The goal is to assess a number of Alzheimer’s blood tests, which have been used in clinical trials to identify patients to test new breakthrough treatments on, for use in the real world.
Ms Carragher said this will involve seeing which tests work best for different people, such as men and women, as well as other practical factors such as which are easiest for NHS labs to analyse and transport, and which are the most cost effective.
Tests in question vary in technology. However, they all analyse a patient’s blood for tell-tale proteins indicating Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia.
If one is found to be successful, it could allow patients worried about possible signs of dementia to go straight to their GP to be tested.
Read more: A third of people who notice signs of dementia in themselves or a loved one keep their fears hidden for more than a month
The charity learned 11% of people who had detected their first dementia symptom had still not discussed it with anyone else at the time of filling out the survey [File image]
If it comes back positive, the patient can then be streamlined for a brain scan at an NHS hospital in a matter of weeks to confirm a diagnosis.
Accelerating any diagnosis opens the door to get patients treated quicker, slowing the progression of the devastating disease.
Ms Carragher said this stands in huge contrast to the current grim reality many dementia patients face, with some never getting diagnosed at all.
‘Our diagnosis rates are only about 63 per cent, which means that 37 per cent don’t get a diagnosis at all,’ she told MailOnline. ‘It takes up to two years to get a diagnosis of dementia.
‘If you have early onset, so below the age of 60, with more complex and subtle signs, it can take up to four years.’
Ms Carragher added that, with new Alzheimer’s drugs in the pipeline which have the potential to halt the disease‘s advances, finding an effective way to identify patients in the early stages, who would benefit the most, is crucial.
‘We’re really on the cusp of breakthroughs for Alzheimer’s,’ she said.
‘But we need to revolutionise the diagnosis pathway to have any hope of getting those drugs to the right people in the future. And that’s where this program is so important.’
Even for patients who might not get those treatments, an earlier diagnosis could give them time and knowledge.
Ms Carragher said this could take the form of ensuring you had arrangements made for your care to ensuring you lived your life to fullest while you were still able.
She added the project will now be seeking an academic partner and will also likely feature trials involving thousands of Brits.
After this groundwork is done, any successful test could then be rolled out locally — before potentially being made available nationwide.
‘We’re aiming to have, at the end of a five to six year period, a blood test being introduced to at least one region across the NHS with the evidence being there to roll it out to other places,’ Ms Carragher said.
She added another aspect of the project is to break down stigma in seeking help with dementia to ensure once the test is available people know to seek help from their GP early.
‘Many people think that memory loss and the symptoms that they have are just a normal part of ageing,’ she said.
‘It’s not called getting old, it’s called getting ill.’
People’s Postcode Lottery’s donation was announced in saying it was announced in Edinburgh today and was made as part of its Dream Fund and is the biggest single award of its kind in the the lottery manager’s history.
The fund gives organisations and charities the chance to deliver a project they have always dreamed of, but never had the opportunity to bring to life.
A study by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine revealed that global dementia cases are set to nearly triple by 2050, from 57.4million to 152.8. But the rate of illness is expected to increase varies between different parts of the world. In Western Europe, cases are expected to rise by just 75 per cent, mainly due to an ageing population, while they are expected to double in North America. But the biggest increase is expected to be seen in North Africa and the Middle East, where cases are projected to rise by 375 per cent. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia
Kate Lee, Alzheimer’s Society chief executive, said: ‘With diagnosis rates at a five-year low, we need to act now to help end the devastation caused by dementia.
‘We could not be more grateful to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for helping us make this dream a reality.’
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research, added: ‘Anxiously waiting months and months for a diagnosis is simply not good enough. People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia deserve better.’
‘Making sure future generations won’t have to go through this lengthy worry by bringing a quick, simple blood test to the NHS is a wonderful legacy from People’s Postcode Lottery players all over the country. If we can fix diagnosis, we open the door for a cure.’
Clara Govier, managing Director at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: ‘We believe this new collaboration between two of the country’s leading Alzheimer’s charities has the potential to transform dementia diagnosis in the UK.
‘It’s a bold ambition but, with one person in Britain developing dementia every three minutes, we must aim high. This is a condition which devastates lives and I know our millions of players will join me in wishing our charity partners every success.’
Around 850,000 Britons and 5.8million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
The disease is the leading cause of dementia, a condition where suffers have an impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities.
Dementia affects 900,000 people in the UK and an estimated 7million in the US.
Dementia is also a rising health problem in ageing societies where people are living for longer, like Britain’s, with one in three people born today now expected to receive a dementia diagnosis in their lifetime.
Treating and caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is estimated to cost Britain £25billion each year, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK, the vast majority of that being in social care spending.
It took me nine months to use the ‘D-word’
It took Simon Ruscoe almost three years to say out loud that he was struggling with his memory.
After being diagnosed with early-onset dementia in January 2020, it took a further nine months for him to use the ‘D-word’.
The 58-year-old, who worked as a senior manager for a major IT company, first began to show signs of frequent memory lapses from August 2016, when he was taking wrong turns while driving, and losing his keys, or forgetting entire conversations which had just happened.
But the father-of-two was reluctant to accept what was happening – at first not understanding he may have memory issues, because he was confused, but then later becoming defensive if anyone suggested there might be a problem.
It took Simon Ruscoe almost three years to say out loud that he was struggling with his memory. After being diagnosed with early-onset dementia in January 2020, it took a further nine months for him to use the ‘D-word’. Pictured with wife Emma
Mr Ruscoe, a father of two, said: ‘I didn’t struggle saying the word dementia because I was ashamed or couldn’t accept it.
‘It was that if I said it out loud, it would become real.’
His wife, Emma, said: ‘Simon was always the perfect husband and father – the main breadwinner who looked after us all.
‘I think he thought that by having dementia he would be letting us down.
‘We are a team and he didn’t want not to play his part in the team.
‘But it was important to discuss the diagnosis and work out ways to live with it.’
The couple, who have been married for 28 years and live in Solihull with their sons, Alex, 27, and Oliver, 21, had a long journey with dementia.
After his memory loss was judged to be stress by medical professionals in 2016, Mr Ruscoe refused to see a doctor again for two years.
Now, he still can become upset if the subject of his dementia comes up, because of the parts of his life he has lost.
But Mrs Roscoe said: ‘It is like a tug of war, where the disease is pulling Simon one way and our family are pulling him back.
‘We lose pieces of the puzzle but he is still the same person. He can do things like shower and wash his hair if we remind him how to do it, because he has forgotten the steps, and he can still socialise, although he may start to repeat things after five minutes of speaking.
‘We won’t let dementia become the D-word like cancer used to be the C-word.
‘It is part of our lives, but we’ve proved it’s possible to live well with dementia.’