Using blood tests and psychological tests to predict familial Alzheimer’s disease

Research project: Accessible biomarkers of progression and prognosis: a multimodal study of familial Alzheimer's disease

Lead Investigator: Dr Antoinette O’Connor

  • Institution: Institute of Neurology, University College London
  • Grant type: Clinical Training Fellowship
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Amount: £206,071

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

‘A simple blood test would be a big step forward - less intrusive, quicker and cheaper for the NHS.'

Project summary

This project aims to develop tests that identify people with Alzheimer's disease before they begin to experience symptoms. These tests would help people to take part in further research earlier in the progression of their condition. Researchers hope this could accelerate the likelihood of developing successful treatments.  

The background 

Familial Alzheimer’s disease (fAD) is caused by a gene mutation passed between generations in DNA. This type of dementia is very rare, affecting family members through successive generation. Researcher believe just over 600 families are affected worldwide.  

We know that biological changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease may start as long as 15 years before symptoms appear. This period may be when treatments are most effective. At the moment, the best way to find out who might benefit from treatments at this stage can only been identified with invasive and expensive tests like lumbar punctures and brain scans. Blood tests and psychological tests would be a more reliable, less invasive and affordable alternative.

What does this project involve?

Dr O’Connor will use blood tests to look for proteins in the blood that are biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. These are amyloid, tau and neurofilament light (a protein released into the blood when brain cells become damaged). 

She will analyse the relationship between these biomarkers and how individuals performance  in a new psychological test called ‘Accelerated Forgetting’. She will explore how this ‘Accelerated Forgetting’ compares to existing neuropsychological tests at predicting rates of brain shrinkage and cognitive decline. 

How will this project help people with dementia?

Using blood tests and the ‘Accelerated Forgetting’ test to predict progression of Alzheimer’s disease would mean people with a family history of fAD could access treatments before symptoms appear.

It would also make it easier for people to participate in research at an earlier stage, when treatments for fAD might be more effective.

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