Alzheimer’s Research UK is launching a project to improve early detection of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's through the use of technology, the charity announced on 11 February.
Having already secured funding from Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, as well as the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, the plan is for the initiative to attract up to £100m over the course of the next 10 years to develop and trial a diagnostic device on a wide scale.
WHY IT MATTERS
It is difficult to identify the exact number of people living with dementia in the UK, although a report from 2014 estimated it to be around 850,000. That number is projected to rapidly increase over the next few decades, according to the charity.
The potential of a diagnostic device is of particular importance as research has shown that Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, starts to form in the brain around 20 years before symptoms emerge.
Carol Routledge, research director at the charity, said their analysis indicated that 85% of adults in the UK would be “willing” to take a test telling them whether or not they were developing the disease.
That comes as little surprise, as a report from 2018 found that nearly half of UK adults said dementia was the “health condition they fear most about getting in the future”.
Routledge said the new project would use data to help those that are most at risk by creating “digital fingerprints” or signatures of disease that could then be detected through wearable technologies.
“Identifying the very earliest changes in these diseases would transform research efforts today, giving us the best chance of stopping these diseases before the symptoms of dementia start to get in the way of life,” she added.
THE LARGER PICTURE
This is not the first attempt to use the latest advancements in technology for early detection of Alzheimer’s.
Altoida, maker of a platform that employs the use of AI and augmented reality in this effort, secured $6.3 million in a Series A funding round last year to support commercialisation activities in the US and in Europe.
Another player in this space is Optina Diagnostics. The Canadian company uses spectral retinal imaging and AI to scan for the disease. It secured $4 million in seed funding back in 2018.
ON THE RECORD
“Harnessing cutting-edge technology to spot the early signs of dementia can be used to transform research to improve outcomes and even one day, stop this disease in its tracks,” said former care minister Caroline Dinenage.
“This is an incredibly exciting initiative which has the potential to bring together global partners to transform how we treat dementia as well as to live well with it.”