Alzheimer’s Research has launched a new initiative that it hopes will “revolutionise” the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The project will be trialled by a million people in the UK and will use wearable technologies, such as smart watches, to monitor more than 30 indicators, such as speech, gait, fine motor skills and sleep.
From this, ‘fingerprints’ – or common traits – will be developed to highlight initial signs.
The objective is then to design a wearable device capable of detecting the fingerprints to enable early diagnosis.
The charity’s President, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, hosted an event to launch the Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) initiative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month.
He said: “At the first G8 Dementia Summit in 2013, health leaders committed to finding a disease-modifying treatment for dementia by 2025. As that deadline grows closer, we must focus not only on developing life-changing medicines but how we ensure they reach the right people at the right time.
“Early and accurate diagnosis will give future treatments the head-start they need to succeed. EDoN brings together those at the forefront of this early diagnosis movement. 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 on families facing these heartbreaking diseases.”
The project aims to secure at least £67m over the first six years, with an ambition to attract up to £100m of total investment by 2030 to build and trial its diagnostic device on a large scale.
Initial funds towards the initiative have already been secured from Bill Gates and Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, and EDoN will now become a focus for the charity’s fundraising to secure the further support required.
Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “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 smart watches would provide a low-cost approach to identifying those most at risk of disease.
“Identifying the very earliest changes in these diseases would transform research efforts today, giving us the best chance of stopping these diseases before the symptoms of dementia start to get in the way of life.”
Diseases like Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, start to develop in the brain up to two decades before symptoms of dementia begin to show. Researchers worldwide now agree that future treatments and preventions will have greatest benefit when given as early as possible in the disease.
With potential new treatments for early Alzheimer’s on the horizon, Alzheimer’s Research UK believes that now is a critical time to act to identify very early brain changes in diseases like Alzheimer’s.