Ahead this week’s dementia summit, King’s College London reserachers have told Channel 4 News they have made what they call a significant advance in developing a blood test which could detect Alzheimer’s, even before clinical symptoms appear.

This in turn could be used in clinical trials to develop drugs for the prevention of the condition.

Simon Lovestone, professor of old age psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, said that the data they are now seeing from their study is “more promising than I think I have seen before”.

The findings, exclusively revealed to Channel 4 News, could lead to a blood test within five years. Prof Lovestone said he also believed that there would be a drug treatment within 10 years.

The development is a result of a painstaking search for the proteins that are markers for Alzheimer’s. Of the more than 10,000 proteins in human blood, the team believe they have identified the 10 that could be used for detecting the disease. They have now prepared a kit for using this on volunteers.

And working in collaboration with the European Medical Information Framework – a 56m euro project into Alzheimer’s and diabetes – thousands of volunteers have already been recruited to take part in the study.

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They have given blood samples and provided clinical data including brain scans. These samples will be used to examine the effectiveness of the test.

More volunteers will, however, need to be recruited to a bigger study in the UK within the next five years.

Prof Lovestone emphasised that this was not a test for the general population. Currently, there are no drugs to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease but this test could be used for clinical trials.

The research is being funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK – the charity gave the team one of their biggest grants ever. Dr Eric Karran, director of research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that it was hoped that one day there would be a test for the general population.

This would, he said, mean that people would get a diagnosis sooner, which in turn would mean they could access help earlier.

It is thought that Alzheimer’s disease could start to develop up to 10 years before the clinical symptoms appear. But offering a test to the general population would create ethical issues because there is not any preventive treatment to give the patient.

The news of the breakthrough comes ahead of Wednesday’s G8 dementia summit which has been called by the prime minister. Health ministers, charities and drug companies will spend the day discussing collaboration in research and funding of dementia, which affects 44 million people worldwide, but is set to soar to 76 million by 2030.

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