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New Dementia Diagnosis Tools Possible with £5 Million Engineering Funding

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 10:01am
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Health ministers from the G8 nations will meet in London today (11 December) to discuss the global health challenge posed by dementia. The summit aims to develop co-ordinated global action on dementia. One area of focus at the summit is preventing and delaying dementia.

Engineering, physical sciences and mathematics play a vital role in creating new techniques and technologies to address national and global health challenges, which is why the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is contributing to this global drive for a greater understanding, by announcing £5 million of funding available for research to improve our ability to diagnose and measure disease progression.

A total of 44 million people are already living with the condition around the world and that figure is predicted to soar to 76 million by 2030. Dementia is inherently difficult to diagnose and significant delays from symptom-onset to diagnosis can occur for a variety of reasons. Typically diagnosis occurs quite late at a time when patients’ cognitive impairment, disability and behavioural symptoms may be quite marked. A more timely diagnosis would provide patients with more time to make decisions and plan for when their condition becomes more advanced, thus maximising their quality of life.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:  “We need to take action now if we are to address the global health challenge posed by dementia. This funding will contribute to a greater understanding of the disease, helping to break down the barrier posed by diagnosing dementia, and ultimately giving people a better of quality of life.”

A scoping workshop run by EPSRC in September 2013 identified a lack of understanding of the brain and neurodegenerative diseases.  As a result, this call will build on the strong UK capability in sensing and imaging and focus on developing the technologies and techniques in two specific areas:

  • Identifying dementia sub-types more easily and accurately
  • Enabling quantitative measurement of disease progression

The final use of these new technologies could be in either a clinical or a community setting.  

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s great to see funding committed to research that might improve how accurately we can diagnose dementia. With more than half of the 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia still not getting a diagnosis, too many are left unrecognised and unsupported. A timely diagnosis of dementia opens doors to treatments and gives access to vital care and support.

“At the G8 Summit this week, we hope to see dementia made a priority and plans for global action made to tackle this condition.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Accurate diagnosis of the diseases that cause dementia is critical, as each will require different treatment and care management approaches. Technologies to improve disease detection and progression could boost development of treatments, providing valuable data on the benefits of new drugs and helping get them to patients more quickly. Dementia is our greatest medical challenge, and we need the very best in innovation and technology to solve it.”

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