The government has today (5 Dec) announced up to £79 million of Industrial Strategy funding for a new programme of research that will harness the power of artificial intelligence and big data to dramatically change the way major diseases are detected, diagnosed and treated. The funding, which forms part of the government’s Life Sciences Sector Deal 2, will support the establishment of a landmark cohort of up to five million people to take part in research aimed at revolutionising early detection and diagnosis of a range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The programme will bring together the NHS, industry and leading charities including Alzheimer’s Research UK, Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.
The announcement comes as the World Dementia Council meets to mark five years since the G8 Dementia Summit, at which world leaders committed to a goal of developing a disease-modifying treatment for dementia by 2025. The inclusion of dementia in this groundbreaking programme highlights the progress made since the summit in ensuring that dementia is a key health priority in the UK.
The ability to accurately detect diseases earlier is a major goal for many health conditions, including the diseases that cause dementia. This new research will align with an important goal of Alzheimer’s Research UK to move detection of diseases like Alzheimer’s 10-15 years earlier than is possible today, even before symptoms start to take hold. The announcement bolsters ongoing work led by the charity to bring together global health organisations to take on the challenge of developing an accurate, cost-effective detection tool for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
In a recent survey for Alzheimer’s Research UK, the vast majority (85%) of UK adults said they would be willing to take a test or set of tests through their doctor that could tell whether they were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another dementia, even before symptoms showed – with just over half (55%) of those saying they would take such a test regardless of the effectiveness of treatments available.
An early and accurate diagnosis helps people living with dementia and their families begin to make sense of their symptoms, gives access to the support and treatments that they need and provides the opportunity to get involved in cutting-edge research. Currently, diagnosis occurs after a person presents at their GP with problems such as memory decline, yet these symptoms only appear years after damage begins in the brain.
For Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, researchers believe that new treatments in development will have the best chance of success if given early, and the ability to identify people in the early stages of the disease could be vital for treating people effectively in the future.
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Alzheimer’s Research UK warmly welcomes the government’s announcement that the Life Sciences Sector Deal 2 will back this groundbreaking research, and we are delighted to be playing a part in the development of this landmark cohort.
“At the moment, diseases like Alzheimer’s can only be diagnosed after symptoms of dementia appear. As advanced research brings forward new treatments for the underlying diseases that cause dementia, it will be vital that people are diagnosed as soon as possible for these treatments to be most effective. The vast majority of the UK public have told us they are willing to take a test to detect these diseases early, and research to deliver such a test must go hand in hand with work to develop life-changing new treatments.
“Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading a programme of work to help revolutionise the way dementia is diagnosed, and uniting the best minds in digital data and technology will enable us to harness the full potential of this cohort of volunteers. Today’s announcement is an important step towards achieving that goal and improving the way we treat people with diseases like Alzheimer’s.”