Can blood tests be used to diagnose delirium and improve diagnosis?

Research Project: Serum neurofilament light chain protein as a prognostic biomarker for
delirium in critically ill patients

Lead Investigator: Dr Valerie Page

  • Institution: Watford General Hospital
  • Grant type: Project
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Amount: £41,145.37

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

The study is well rounded and looks at patient outcomes as well as the impact on the community if patients with delirium deteriorated.

Project summary

Critically ill patients often experience delirium, which can worsen cognitive impairment and accelerate the progression of dementia.

The researchers will investigate one particular protein and its link to delirium. They will investigate whether measuring the levels of this protein could help us predict and diagnose delirium, and therefore improve dementia. 

The background 

People who are critically ill will often develop delirium, a condition where temporary changes in the functioning of the brain can lead to confusion, and sometimes hallucinations and delusions. It is very distressing to the person, and their family and friends. 

Previous research has found that delirium often leads to cognitive impairment, which is similar to mild Alzheimer’s disease, and can also accelerate the progression of dementia. This means that it is important to diagnose and monitor delirium in critically ill patients.

However, this can be challenging. Unlike other conditions, such as cancer, we don’t have a blood test for delirium.

This is because we have not identified a biomarker, a substance in the blood that could indicate the presence of the condition. 

Dr Page aims to investigate a substance called neurofilament light protein, which is present in the blood of people with neurodegenerative conditions, including dementia. By exploring the link between this protein and delirium, this project will provide insight into a potential new biomarker for delirium.

What does this project involve?

The project involves analysing blood samples collected from 142 intensive care patients in a previous research trial. The samples were originally collected at intervals over a period of 28 days. 

The researchers will specifically test for a substance called neurofilament light protein and compare the levels in patients with and without delirium. They will also see if the neurofilament light protein levels are related to the length of time a patient has delirium, and whether the patient recovered or showed cognitive decline. 

How will this project help people with dementia?

This project will provide insight into whether neurofilament light protein could be a biomarker for delirium. Understanding this could help the diagnosis and monitoring of delirium in patients. 

Delirium can greatly worsen cognitive impairment and accelerate dementia. By accurately monitoring delirium, Dr Page’s work could help advance delirium research. This could ultimately help to modify the progression of dementia and even reduce cognitive impairment. 

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