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Dementia blood tests could be available on NHS within five years

New blood tests which could diagnose dementia more accurately than current methods could be available on the NHS within five years.

New blood tests which could diagnose dementia more accurately than current methods could be available on the NHS within five years.

The blood tests are being developed as part of the Blood Biomarker Challenge – a project led by the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Tests expected to analyse the blood for traces of brain proteins

The project is supported by £5 million of funding, and is expected to last around four to five years. It will assess a ‘panel of biomarkers’ in real-world populations in the UK.

Full details on the types of blood tests which will be tested are yet to be announced, but a range of blood tests are currently in research stages.

This includes tests which look for specific proteins, such as amyloid and tau, that are known to build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

While some of these tests are available from private clinics in the US, there is no clinically validated test in the UK which is available to NHS patients.

Patients can wait up to four years for a dementia diagnosis

Currently, it is estimated that roughly four in 10 people over the age of 65 with dementia in England go undiagnosed. However, in some areas of the country, just 53% receive a diagnosis.

Even for those who do get a diagnosis, there can be long waits of up to four years for patients who are under the age of 65.

An early dementia diagnosis is key for patients to access treatment, particularly as new dementia drugs are showing signs of promise.

However, the diagnostic tests currently available – such as brain scans and lumbar punctures – are time-consuming, uncomfortable, and are not uniformly available to dementia services around the UK.

Indeed, a nationally representative survey found that over half (54%) of UK adults would be reluctant to undergo a lumbar puncture even though it’s among the few recommended procedures for diagnosing suspected dementia in the NHS. In contrast, over 90% (94%) of respondents would be willing to take a blood test if one became available.

Blood tests could therefore allow patients to access a simple, non-invasive diagnostic test, with the results received in weeks.

A ‘new era’ of dementia treatments

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Executive Director of Research and Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We’re sitting on the cusp of a new era of dementia treatments, and doctors are likely going to see more people coming forward for a diagnosis. But the NHS doesn’t possess the required levels of diagnostic infrastructure to cope with this growing demand.”

“Low-cost tools like blood tests that are non-invasive and simpler to administer than current gold standard methods are the answer to this” she added.

Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, said introducing a blood test for dementia into UK healthcare systems would be “a truly game-changing win in the fight against this devastating disease.”

More information about the project will be announced in January 2024.

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