Belfast Scientists Awarded £100,000 for Study to Improve Alzheimer’s Detection

Scientists in Belfast are embarking on a project that could bring a simple blood test for Alzheimer’s disease a step closer, thanks to a £99,754 grant from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast will use a state-of-the-art-technique to find ways of identifying people with Alzheimer’s and those who are at greater risk of developing the disease.

The two-year project will see Dr Brian Green and his team investigate how metabolites – tiny molecules that are involved in biochemical reactions in the body – may be used to detect Alzheimer’s disease. These molecules act as ‘chemical fingerprints’, offering clues about what is happening inside our cells. The researchers hope to be able to identify different patterns of metabolites that are most associated with Alzheimer’s, as the first step to developing a new test to diagnose the disease in its earliest stages.

The team has already tested several different ways of profiling metabolites, using brain samples from people who died with Alzheimer’s and people without the disease. One specific method, which rapidly analyses thousands of metabolites, was able to detect a pattern of metabolites that were linked to late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers now want to see whether this method can detect the disease at a much earlier stage.

As part of the project, the researchers will team up with clinical collaborators at Belfast City Hospital’s memory clinic to recruit volunteers to take part in the study. Using blood samples from healthy volunteers and people with Alzheimer’s, the researchers will search for different patterns of metabolites that can distinguish between the two. The study will also include people with mild memory problems, who are at a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, to see whether metabolites can be used to predict which of them will develop the disease. The funding will also allow the team to collaborate with researchers in Galway, Bristol and Coleraine and will permit them to test their method on generously donated brain tissue.

Dr Green said:
“A simple, reliable blood test for Alzheimer’s is a ‘Holy Grail’ for clinical diagnosis, and we hope our study could form the foundation for such a test to predict and diagnose the disease. By understanding what changes in metabolites are associated with Alzheimer’s, we should also gain more understanding about what happens as the disease develops – potentially aiding the development of new treatments. We’re extremely grateful for this funding, which will allow us to build on our results and take us closer to a new way of diagnosing Alzheimer’s.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We’re delighted to be supporting this study, which has real potential for improving the way Alzheimer’s is diagnosed. This project is a good example of collaborative research, with scientists from different centres coming together to pool their expertise and tackle this problem. Alzheimer’s can be notoriously difficult to diagnose in the early stages, and an accurate test for the disease could make a real difference to people’s lives, allowing them to access care and existing treatments far sooner. The ability to predict Alzheimer’s would also be a huge boost for research, allowing people to be recruited to clinical trials in the earliest stages of the disease, when treatments are more likely to be successful.

“Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, which affects more than 15,000 people in Northern Ireland alone, yet currently there are no treatments to stop the disease in its tracks. If we are to find treatments for the future, we must invest in research today.”

This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.

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