Blood holds the key to dementia detection

The early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease via a simple blood test is on track to becoming a reality thanks to research from the Novel Treatment Discovery theme. 

The research is led by Associate Professor Veer Gupta, who leads the Neurodegeneration and Biomarkers group at the School of Medicine. Prof Gupta has worked on researching the importance of blood as a feasible and reliable source for Alzheimer’s disease relevant biomarkers for the past 12 years. Working alongside her team that consists of an early career researcher, who is postdoctoral, and three PhD students, their projects are aimed at determining novel and innovative ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease (AD) early along the disease’s trajectory. 

A/Prof Gupta says she has focused her research on the diagnosis of AD for two reasons; firstly, by using the parallels between the diagnosis of the disease with its pathophysiology the team can gain a deeper insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying the disease.  

And secondly, by gaining an accurate diagnosis, more effective interventions can be implemented to treat the disease. 

Their research, A/Prof Gupta says, has highlighted the importance of blood and assay platforms when searching for AD relevant biomarkers. It has also highlighted the need for greater standardisation of blood-based biomarkers for reliable clinical screening for those at risk of AD. 

“There are several ways to diagnose AD, but it is important to invest time and resources in a way that is acceptable for recipients—that is non-invasive, feasible in a clinical setting for routine diagnostic procedures and one that has both health and economic value,”

Associate Professor Veer Gupta 

“Considering these requisites, blood is the most promising source of exploring AD-relevant biomarkers.” 

In 2019, along with other researchers A/Prof Gupta contributed to develop a blood biomarker-based classifier using a machine that learned to identify individuals with preclinical AD.  

“This diagnostic model had a high accuracy in detecting cases of preclinical AD,” A/Prof Gupta says.  “The establishment of plasma apolipoprotein J and cerebrospinal fluid neurofilament light as potential biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, were other significant outcomes from my research projects.”  

A/Prof Gupta says early detection via a low-cost blood test will help to delay or prevent dementia and could contribute to achieving a 24 per cent reduction in dementia. 

“This research will reduce economic impacts of dementia and sustain life quality. Billions of dollars of expenditure incurred as direct and indirect costs could be saved—approximately $120 billion by 2056,” she says. 

“Besides this, biomarker-based testing will enable clinicians to make evidence-based decisions on personalised interventions and will help policy makers to make decisions for improved healthcare. This research will also increase community awareness about the importance of early biomarker-based screening—a blood test—via community engagement.” 

In 2020, the team’s projects faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic however, the research continues and will now focus on developing a risk prediction model that precisely screens individuals at risk of dementia based on qualitative and quantitative differences in risk factors. 

“An accurate and feasible assessment of the nature and magnitude of risks will be done,” A/Prof Gupta says. “A blood-based test is non-invasive, and economically and clinically feasible. Therefore, a blood-based test can be used in clinics as a routine diagnostic test to screen as many individuals for whom testing is vital. Especially for those who are above 55 years of age, given that age is a significant risk factor for increasing the odds of AD/dementia.” 

This piece is a real world impact article that was recently published in our annual report. Read the full report here