THE first blood tests for Alzheimer’s will be available on the NHS within five years, scientists hope.
Two top charities are pumping in £5million to fast-track research for simpler tests for the disease, which is one of Britain’s top killers.
Current memory tasks, brain scans and spinal fluid samples are slow and complicated and four in 10 patients are never diagnosed.
Groundbreaking new treatments are on the way but early diagnosis will be key to starting them before the brain is too damaged.
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, research director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We expect there to be a surge in people coming forward for diagnosis but we don’t have the infrastructure to cope.”
Dr Fiona Carragher, from the Alzheimer’s Society, added: “Many people face a very long wait of up to two or even four years to get a diagnosis, and many do not have one at all.
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“This could absolutely revolutionise the way dementia is diagnosed.”
The two charities are teaming up to fund research into better tests.
Scientists believe they can spot signs of dementia-causing diseases in the blood because certain proteins or biomarkers build up to harmful levels.
More development is needed to refine the process and make it reliable and easy enough for doctors to use.
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A blood test would be quicker and cheaper than current methods, and also nicer for patients.
Charity polling found just six per cent of Brits would worry about a blood test, compared to 46 per cent who are fearful of having a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap.
Dr Joanne Rodda, an NHS psychiatrist, said: “I think perhaps within five years we will start to use these blood biomarker tests in our routine practice.
“We do need to be cautious about how we use them because the older somebody gets, the more likely it is that they will have a positive test but no symptoms.
“It will need to be as part of a full assessment including their symptoms and cognitive test performance.”
Around 600,000 people in the UK have Alzheimer’s disease, which causes an estimated two thirds of our 900,000 dementia cases.
Dementia is the country’s leading cause of death and has no cure.
Dr Kohlhaas added: “We’re sitting on the cusp of a new era of dementia treatments, and doctors are likely going to see more people coming forward.
“Low-cost tools like blood tests are the answer to this but we need to move them out of the lab and into the real world.”
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