Blood test that diagnoses Alzheimer’s up to 15 years before symptoms could be free on NHS within a year

A BLOOD test that detects Alzheimer’s up to 15 years before symptoms emerge is set to be made free on the NHS within a year.

The new test is cheaper, easier and at least as accurate as the current diagnosis options, previous studies have shown.

GettyA blood test that detects Alzheimer’s before symptoms emerge is set to be made free on the NHS[/caption]

It works by measuring levels of a protein in the blood called p-tau217.

The protein is a sign of the devastating disease in the brain caused when tau starts to attack neurons. 

These proteins can build up 15 years before typical symptoms such as forgetfulness and cognitive decline take hold.

The Dementia Research Institute at University College London, which can receive tests from anywhere in the country, says it can analyse 100,000 a year.

UCL scientists have to complete a formal “validation process” for regulators, but they are confident this will be successfully finished by June next year – and believe it could be concluded in seven months.

Dementia is the leading cause of death in Britain, and Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the condition, making up one-third of cases.

Twelve months is a conservative estimate, it could be by the end of this year.

Dr Ashvini KeshavanUniversity College Lonodn

One in three people in England and one in two in Wales with dementia do not have a diagnosis, even though it is the country’s biggest killer, with about 900,000 cases in the UK.

More than 944,000 people in the UK have dementia, a figure expected to rise to more than a million by 2030.

Getting an early diagnosis could make dementia treatments more effective, which are known to be better in slowing the disease the earlier they are taken.

Testing through blood samples – which can cost as little as £20-£100 – will lead to many more people being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s earlier.

Current memory tasks, brain scans and spinal fluid samples are slow and complicated; four in 10 patients are never diagnosed.

Dr Ashvini Keshavan, a senior clinical research fellow at UCL and honorary consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, said: “Blood tests will be up and running in our clinical schedule within 12 months – of that I’m fairly confident.

“Twelve months is a conservative estimate, it could be by the end of this year.

“We have started the validation, so we know the outlook of what we have to do is going to fit well within the 12 months.”

Dr Keshavan added: “The first stage is to bring it into the NHS – it’s what we’ve been funded to do – within the next 12 months.”

What are the symptoms of dementia?

Different types of dementia can affect people differently, and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way.

However, there are some common early symptoms that may appear some time before a diagnosis of dementia. These include:

Memory loss
Difficulty concentrating
Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
Being confused about time and place
Mood changes

Source: The NHS

The final validation procedure before blood tests are available in the NHS looks at technical issues, such as whether a remote location has facilities to store a sample at the optimum cold temperature.

There are also plans to send cheaper blood test cards to people’s homes so that they can provide samples themselves.

Prof Jonathan Schott, the chief medical officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “If, as we hope, new treatments that can slow down Alzheimer’s disease become available soon, then blood tests will be vital.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “Blood-based biomarker testing is an exciting area of innovation.”

The cheap ways you can prevent dementia before it strikes

While some dementia risk factors, like age and genetics, can’t be changed, you can take action to reduce your risk today.

1. Taking 2p vitamins

Multivitamins that cost as little as 2p could stave off Alzheimer’s, a study shows.

Researchers at Mass General Brigham in the US found people who take the tablets every day have slower brain ageing and less memory loss.

They said the improvement was similar to being two years younger.

2. Eating strawberries

Research also shows eating a portion of strawberries every day could help prevent dementia for overweight middle aged people.

The study, published in Nutrients, looked at how eating the fruits impacted the memories of people aged 50 to 65 who already had mild cognitive decline.

It found those eating strawberries had better cognitive function, which could have been caused by lower inflammation of the brain.

3. Having more sex

Sex can help protect against dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain, research shows.

The quality of sex and climax was most closely linked to mental sharpness in 62- to 74-year-olds, experts found.

Over-75s, on the other hand, benefited most from romps at least once a week.

4. Drinking coffee

Coffee could help prevent a cause of Alzheimer’s building up.

Espresso may stop proteins that are linked to the disease from tangling in the brain, the study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found.

The drink rendered the protein clumps non-toxic to brain cells, making them less likely to lead to dementia, they said.

5. Dancing

Having a boogie has also been shown to be an effective way of protecting yourself against the memory loss condition.

Not only does it offer a fun way of exercising, but remembering steps and the social element also help stimulate the brain.

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