Thousands of Brits will get revolutionary blood tests to detect early signs of dementia

By Staff 7 Min Read

The blood tests could be ready for use in the NHS within five years as part of a drive to address the UK’s low diagnosis rate, with trials set to involve thousands of people across the country

Thousands of people across the UK could be given blood tests to detect early signs of dementia in a new nationwide trial.

Leading scientists from University College London and Oxford University are working on a cheaper test that could show up early signs of dementia.The revolutionary tests could be ready for use in the NHS within five years as part of a drive to address the nation’s low diagnosis rate.

At present, only about 2% of patients can get specific tests, like PET scans or lumbar punctures, as they’re only available in some NHS memory clinics. Fiona Carragher from the Alzheimer’s Society said lack of access to the tests a big problem. She said: “Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer, yet a third of people living with dementia don’t have a diagnosis, which means they’re not able to access care and support.”

“At the moment, only 2% of people with dementia can access the specialised tests needed to demonstrate eligibility for new treatments, leading to unnecessary delays, worry and uncertainty. Blood tests are part of the answer to this problem they’re quick, easy to administer and cheaper than current, more complex tests. I’ve spent decades working in research and the NHS and, after years of slow progress, it feels like we’re on the cusp of a new chapter on how we treat dementia in this country.”

The research teams are part of the Blood Biomarker Challenge, which is backed by Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. A sum of £5 million has also been provded from the People’s Postcode Lottery. The blood tests could give patients their results much faster and help provide new Alzheimer’s medicines to people sooner. Drugs for the condition work best if the illness is found early.

Dr Sheona Scales, who leads 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.”

Jonathan Schott, chief medical officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, will lead a trial on the most promising blood biomarker in tests on 1,100 people across the UK. His University College London (UCL) team will focus on the most promising biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease, called p-tau217, which can indicate levels of amyloid and tau in the brain.

The trial will see if measuring p-tau217 in the blood can increase the rate of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease in people with early dementia, but also those with mild but progressive memory problems. The second trial, headed by Dr Vanessa Raymont, from Oxford University, will cover new and existing blood tests on nearly 4,000 people, testing multiple forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. More than 944,000 people in the UK have dementia, a figure expected to rise to more than a million by 2030.

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