Helping the Fight Against Alzheimer's Disease

Discovering a test to detect those at risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease

What was the health challenge?

One of the main obstacles to finding a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is difficulty detecting the condition in the earliest phases. There is no reliable test that can be used to indicate that a person is just starting to develop this form of dementia.

What was the purpose of the research?

The research was undertaken to find a new test or biomarker (indicator of the presence of Alzheimer’s) for use in future clinical research into this disease.

The research required a blood sample from a thousand people that could be tested and from whom the Alzheimer’s process had been measured in spinal fluid or using brain imaging.

Clinical data was reused from over 1,000 patients who had previously given fully informed consent to be part of several studies in different countries across Europe. These studies were already looking at the causes, natural history and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Why and how was health data used?

Data included clinical observations and measurements, test results from brain imaging, biochemical test results, and genetic results. All the data was pseudonymised and only the clinical data necessary for the study was transferred to the universities of Oxford and Maastricht for analysis.

Setting up a research study to collect new data would have taken many years and been enormously expensive. Using pre-existing samples and data, this research could be performed very quickly and at a very low cost.

What was the legal basis for using the data?

This use of health data complied with data protection legislation because all of the participants had given their fully-informed consent for their data to be used for this kind of research.

What were the results?

This research has discovered a test that is likely to be very useful at predicting which patients are at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

What was the benefit to healthcare?

The use of this new test will help to improve our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and the provision of care.

It will help future research to quickly discover patients at the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease, because these are the patients for whom research is likely to reveal the most effective new treatments.

This work has also shown how valuable research can be conducted using existing data and blood samples, reducing the time to get results.

Further information

Scientific research paper: