Every three seconds there is a new case of dementia somewhere in the world.
Dementia is the broad term for brain disorders that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion, and is a debilitating and currently incurable condition that affects 10.5 million people in Europe and over 46 million people globally. With an aging population this figure is set to rise to over 130 million by 2050.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which represents about 70 % of all cases. To help patients access the most effective treatments and sources of support, early diagnosis is crucial. However, recent studies suggest only half of people with Alzheimer’s have been formally diagnosed and these cases are often only identified in the advanced stages through highly invasive tests such as lumbar punctures.
The key reasons for this are the lack of accuracy involved in the measurement of biomarkers currently used to indicate Alzheimer’s disease and the absence of alternative clinically-approved and non-invasive tools to diagnose and monitor disease progression.
In our role as the National Measurement Laboratory and Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, scientists at LGC have recently started work on two European metrology projects that aim to address these critical measurement needs.
NeuroMET (led by LGC) is a multidisciplinary project which combines the diverse expertise of a number of National Measurement Institutes (NMIs) together with clinicians and academics. This project aims to overcome the measurement challenges currently constraining clinical innovation and uptake in neurodegenerative disease diagnosis and treatment. It will challenge the performance of a number of non-invasive/minimally invasive approaches for early diagnostic and drug therapeutic monitoring, such as magnetic resonance imaging and blood analysis. Within Neuromet reference methods for protein biomarkers will be developed and their utility in protein standardisation of clinical measurements will be addressed. Finally, the application of novel statistical approaches to integrate clinical analytical and assessment data will enable for the first time the development of validated person centred outcome measures. By working directly with clinicians, the tools and protocols developed will be ready for direct implementation in partnering hospital laboratories and back into the clinic.
Recent studies strongly suggest that metal ions such as iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), or aluminium (Al) are directly or indirectly involved in the development of Alzheimer’s. In collaboration with European NMIs, clinicians and academics, ReMIND (in which LGC is a project partner) aims to understand the role of metals and metal containing bio-molecules in Alzheimer’s development. This project will develop reference measurement procedures to provide measurement comparability between laboratories for established and potential biomarkers in cerebral spinal fluid, plasma and brain tissue using high accuracy inorganic mass spectrometry and Raman spectrometry approaches. This work will support reliable, comparable measurements in current diagnostic tests, enable extended studies into the uptake, metabolism and transport of metals to the brain to be performed, and further the development of population-based screening through blood testing.
The research developed under these two projects will support the development of earlier and more accurate methods for the diagnosis and monitoring of Alzheimer’s disease. This will improve the quality of life both for those affected and their families and ultimately reduce the significant global economic burden of Alzheimer’s care, estimated to be over US$1 trillion by 2018.
To find out more about these projects, contact the NMS Helpdesk.
Find out more about other European projects LGC is involved with.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise dementia awareness and challenge stigma. #RememberMe #WAM