Blood Biomarker Challenge to 'revolutionise' dementia diagnosis

Alzheimer’s Society is working on the Blood Biomarker Challenge, a project that could bring dementia blood tests to the NHS within five years.

Alzheimer’s Society is working on the next stage of the Blood Biomarker Challenge, a £5million award that hopes to revolutionise dementia diagnosis in the UK.

A collaborative project with Alzheimer's Research UK and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), it will pilot the use of dementia blood tests in the NHS.

It's hoped the tests will be able to diagnose different forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, earlier and more accurately than current methods.

Applications for the Blood Biomarker Challenge are now closed and are being reviewed by an independent panel of international experts. The successful research team will be announced in January 2024.

Why we need to improve dementia diagnosis

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. 

We know that getting an accurate diagnosis takes far too long, with people waiting a year, on average, to see a clinician. And for people with young-onset dementia, it can take as long as four years.

While, current figures estimate that more than a third of people over 65 who are living with dementia in England go undiagnosed.

This highlights an urgent need for the NHS to improve how it diagnoses people with symptoms of dementia

Importance of early diagnosis

Two treatments - lecanemab and donanemab – are finally on the horizon for people with early Alzheimer’s disease.

Preparing the NHS to make sure these drugs are available to all those who could benefit is now key. And that means accurately diagnosing people at the earliest stages.

The promise is clear. It could mean that when someone is referred to a clinic for diagnosis within the NHS, they will have rapid access to a simple, non-invasive, and inexpensive blood test, receiving the result within weeks. 

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages would also allow people time to put in place support and care, take part in clinical trials and to access new treatments when they arrive. 

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.

"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."

Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing, Alzheimer’s Society, added: “New drugs targeting early-stage Alzheimer’s disease are just around the corner.

"But without a diagnosis, people simply won’t be able to access them if they are approved. 

"This could absolutely revolutionise the way dementia is diagnosed."

Dementia symptoms checklist

Use our checklist of possible dementia symptoms to help you describe your concerns to a GP or health professional. 

Complete the symptoms checklist