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Alzheimer’s test ‘87% accurate’, say reports

Published on 09/07/14 at 10:08am
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NHS Choices has dampened enthusiasm over a report in medical journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia of a new test for Alzheimer’s disease, which purports to be ‘87% accurate’ in predicting the start of dementia.

Media reports this week seized on the impressively high percentage figure, which came after research into 1,000 people identified proteins in the blood that researchers say could be used to make accurate predictions.

However, in a response on its website, NHS Choices says: “While the test accuracy rate of 87% sounds impressive, it may be a large overestimate of what would happen in reality.”

The test aimed to determine whether people with mild cognitive impairments – which are usually age-related memory problems – would develop ‘full-blown’ Alzheimer’s disease over a year.

“Given real world assumptions on the proportion of people who have mild cognitive impairment that progress to Alzheimer’s disease (10-15%), the predictive ability of the test falls to around 50% – no better than a coin toss,” NHS Choices said.

The study was led by Kings College London and funded by the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Research, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre and European Union grants.

But NHS Choices did not completely pour cold water on the research: for one thing, it would be useful to have a reliable way of identifying people who were likely to develop the disease in order to recruit suitable candidates for future clinical trials.

And while “on its own, this test is unlikely to be much good”, the organisation suggested that refinements to it – and combining it with other methods such as a lipid test – could improve accuracy rates and make it a handy predictive tool.

Last month the UK prime minister David Cameron’s envoy on dementia described progress on research into the neurodegenerative condition as ‘achingly’ slow.

Global spending on dementia is running at five times less than the figure for cancer R&D, with only three dementia drugs getting on to the market in the past 15 years.

But speaking at the 2014 Global Dementia Legacy Event in London - a follow-up to the 2013 G8 Dementia Summit –  Cameron said the UK would double funding for dementia by 2015 while Alzheimer’s Research UK has pledged £100 million.

Adam Hill

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