Improving early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease

Improving diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease
02 Aug 2011 16:48:34.710

PA 238/11

Researchers at The University of Nottingham have been awarded £670,000 to develop a new early warning system for Alzheimer’s disease.

Funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) will be used to develop a new diagnostic test that will pick up the presence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias much sooner than is currently possible – so patients can receive more effective treatment.

As the numbers of people with dementia are set to soar – within the next 10 years, a million people are predicted to be living with the condition in the UK – improving early diagnosis is vitally important.

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The research could mean patients will receive more timely treatment that is more effective in slowing down the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia.

Professor Paul O’Shea, who leads the Nottingham team, and clinical colleague Dr Nin Bajaj of the Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, said: “Dementia is one of the biggest challenges facing our ageing world population. Current diagnostic tests are expensive and have limited accuracy.

“Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have been found to give rise to unique profiles of proteins which we can detect in the blood. The relative levels of these proteins will be measured by the group in Nottingham to develop a new system for early detection and discrimination of dementia.

“We are therefore thrilled that the MRC have agreed funding for this project to develop a cost-effective, highly accurate screening technique for dementia that may ultimately pave the way for earlier therapeutic interventions in this devastating condition.”

The grant, awarded under the MRC’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS), will run for two years.

Early detection and diagnosis are crucial to ensuring that patients receive the appropriate treatment in time to slow down the devastating effects of loss of memory and cognitive function. Improved diagnostic procedures that are simple and cheap to implement will promote early disease detection. This will allow use of emerging therapeutics to maximise treatment efficacy in terms of patient health and cost, improving prospects for life expectancy.

With the MRC award, the Nottingham researchers are well placed to advance the diagnosis and understanding of this group of diseases and provide valuable information on the effectiveness of current and new treatments.

Members of the consortium have already been involved in two major projects which formed the basis of the new MRC DPFS grant, for the development of an AD diagnostic 'chip'. The first, funded by Alzheimer's Research UK resulted in the identification of seven biomarkers which form the basis of the panel being utilised.

The origins of the detection instrument are in a Research Councils UK Basic Technology grant. During this grant a generic platform label-free measurement system, based on a differential surface plasmon resonance imaging of protein micro-arrays utilising an ultra-sensitive CMOS camera system, was developed.

Professor Bob Webb, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research said: “The University of Nottingham has an excellent track record in taking novel research results to application as demonstrated by the global impact of MRI. In this regard, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) currently affects nearly one million people in the UK at an annual cost of over £23 billion.

“The University is therefore delighted to receive funding from the MRC for Professor O’Shea and his team of collaborators to develop a novel and early detection approach for the identification, classification and monitoring of AD. This funding will enable the development of a prototype instrument that can be used in clinical settings – community medical centres as well as hospitals – as a screening tool for the presence and progression of AD.

“This will be a further demonstration of research excellence with impact.’’

— Ends —

Notes to editors:

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.

The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. More news from the University at:

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Paul O’Shea, School of Biology, University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 9513209,; or Dr Nin Bajaj, University of Nottingham,

Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8092 Location: University Park

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