COLLABORATION

Alzheimer’s Research UK collaborates to propel early disease detection

SOURCE: Maxwell Ridgeway/Unsplash
Research indicates that signs for diseases like Alzheimer's are present two decades before visible symptoms appear.

A collaborative initiative led by Alzheimer’s Research UK is currently developing revolutionary wearable technology to enable early detection of neurodegenerative diseases. 

The Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) initiative is a global collaboration between researchers from Alzheimer’s Research UK and organisations including the Alan Turing Institute, University College London, Newcastle University, the University of Exeter, and the University of Cambridge. 

This initiative aims to harness and analyse digital data to develop and identify signatures of neurodegenerative diseases that can be detected using wearable technology such as smartwatches. 

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The significance of this initiative comes from evidence that indicates diseases like Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, starts to develop in the brain for up to two decades before actual symptoms begin to show. 

Therefore, it would be more beneficial to develop future treatments and preventions as early as possible for these diseases. 

This alliance of top-notch researchers and organisations will collaborate to collect and analyse clinical and digital health data such as sleep, gait and speech patterns to develop early digital fingerprints of diseases like Alzheimer’s that can be measured using wearable technology.  

“We hope that this ambitious global project will help bring us closer to finding much-needed treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, combining digital data measurements with gold-standard clinical data such as imaging and memory tests, and using artificial intelligence to develop ‘fingerprints’ of individual diseases far earlier than is currently possible,” said University College London Square Institute of Neurology’s Dr Catherine Mummery who is also the co-lead of the project’s Cohorts and Biomarkers Working Group.

“Identifying the very early warning signs of neurodegenerative diseases, and developing a better understanding of how the diseases progress right from the start, could be invaluable to the development of treatments that could help people before dementia symptoms impact their quality of life.”

Alzheimer's Research UK
The initiative aims to secure £100m in funds by 2030. Source: Science in HD/Unsplash.

The alliance of researchers aim to secure at least £67m over the first six years of the initiative with a further goal to attract up to £100m of total investment by 2030 to develop and test a diagnostic device on a large scale. 

Initial funding for the project has already been provided by Bill Gates and the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation alongside Alzheimer’s Research UK’s own funds towards the initiative. 

“Our research shows that 85% of UK adults would be willing to take a test that could tell them if they were in the early stages of a disease like Alzheimer’s, even before symptoms show,” said Alzheimer’s Research UK director of Research Carol Routledge. 

“EDoN aims to harness the growing popularity of digital health technology and big data to revolutionise how we develop early tests for these diseases. Developing digital fingerprints that can be detected using phone apps or wearable technologies like smartwatches would provide a low-cost approach to identifying those most at risk of disease.”

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The launch event of this initiative was hosted by former UK Prime Minister and current President of Alzheimer’s Research UK David Cameron at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month.  

“Through technology and big data, I strongly believe we are on the cusp of a revolution in how we detect the brain diseases that cause dementia and radically improve the lives of the millions of families facing these heartbreaking diseases,” he said. 

In line with this initiative, the UK Government had committed £79m to create the Accelerating Detection of Diseases cohort back in December 2018. This entails a group of up to five million people who have volunteered to act as a testbed for data-driven discovery. 

Alzheimer’s Research UK plans to use this cohort to validate technologies emerging from EDoN on an unprecedented scale.