Experts have said that blood tests for Alzheimer’s could be available on the NHS within five years.
That’s thanks to the Blood Biomarker Challenge, a £5M project led by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and the National Institute of Health and Care Research. The project’s funds have been raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
The project will involve working with world-class researchers to pilot the implementation of new blood tests in the NHS that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier and more accurately than current methods.
At present, diagnosing people with Alzheimer’s can be tricky and relies on brain imaging or lumbar punctures that can be “invasive and come with uncomfortable side effects” said Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Executive Director of Research and Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Research UK.
According to NHS England, less than two-thirds of people in England with dementia have a formal diagnosis and those who do get a diagnosis can face long waits– up to four years if you are under 65.
“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” said Kohlhaas.
“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.
The 2023 Dementia Attitudes Monitor revealed blood tests for diagnosing dementia would be much more acceptable to the public than current tests offered. The 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.
A range of blood tests for Alzheimer’s are currently in the research stages, including those looking for specific proteins, such as amyloid and tau, that occur before dementia symptoms appear. But no test is currently clinically validated in the UK, or available to patients in the NHS.
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.”