Dementia charity to turn smartwatches into dementia detectors

Alzheimer’s Research UK has launched a global initiative to revolutionise the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Around 85% of UK adults would be willing to take a test that could tell them if they were in the early stages of a disease like Alzheimer’s, even before symptoms show, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The project, Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN), will collect and analyse clinical and digital health data such as sleep, gait and speech patterns, to develop early ‘digital fingerprints’ of diseases like Alzheimer’s, which can be detected using wearable technologies, such as smartwatches.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, start to develop in the brain up to two decades before symptoms of dementia begin to show.

Researchers worldwide now agree that future treatments and preventions will have the greatest benefit when given as early as possible in the disease.

Prof Chris Holmes from the University of Oxford, and Programme Director for Health at The Alan Turing Institute, said:

‘We will use Artificial Intelligence to deliver new insights into the early signals of disease by combining digital data measurements with traditional sources such as brain imaging and memory tests.

‘More accurate and timely detection will enable earlier enrolment for patients onto clinical trials and provide new scientific insight into the initial stages of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

‘The UK is uniquely placed to undertake this work with its expertise in AI and the clinical sciences, coupled with an NHS that is critical to delivering patient benefit. We are delighted to be embarking on this partnership.’

A spokesman for Alzheimer’s Research UK said the collaboration aims to secure at least £67m over the first six years, with an ambition to attract up to £100m of total investment by 2030 to build and trial its diagnostic device on a large scale.

Initial funds towards the initiative have already been secured from Bill Gates and Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, and EDoN will now become a focus for the charity’s fundraising to secure the further support required.

The charity said, in December 2018, the government committed £79m through the Life Sciences Sector Deal 2 to create the Accelerating Detection of Disease cohort, a group of up to 5 million people to act as a testbed for data-driven discovery.

As a partner on that project, Alzheimer’s Research UK plans to use the cohort to validate technologies emerging from EDoN on a scale that’s not been possible before.

Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage said: ‘We want to make this the best country in the world to live well with dementia and early detection and diagnosis is a huge step toward improving the lives of those with the condition.

‘Harnessing cutting-edge technology to spot the early signs of dementia can be used to transform research to improve outcomes and even one day, stop this disease in its tracks.

‘This is an incredibly exciting initiative which has the potential to bring together global partners to transform how we treat dementia as well as to live well with it.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay


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