Alzheimer’s Research UK Launches Global Initiative to Use Wearables to Revolutionize Disease Detection

Alzheimers Research UK to Use Wearables
Image: Alzheimer’s Research UK

Alzheimer’s Research UK, the leading dementia research charity in the UK, has launched a global initiative to revolutionize the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

A wealth of data will be used to develop “fingerprints” of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s that can then be detected through wearable technologies, such as smartwatches.

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The Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN) initiative, 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, reports Alzheimer’s Research UK.

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 greatest benefit when given as early as possible in the disease.

With potential new treatments for early Alzheimer’s on the horizon, Alzheimer’s Research UK believes that now is a critical time to act to identify very early brain changes in diseases like Alzheimer’s.

EDoN will see that Alzheimer’s Research UK join forces with leading organizations in data science, clinical and neurodegenerative research to collect and analyze clinical and digital health data such as sleep, gait and speech patterns, to develop early digital fingerprints of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Plaques and tangles in Alzheimer's
Hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease are senile plaques, composed of beta-amyloid protein and neurofibrillary tangles, composed of tau protein. These plaques and tangles cause neurons to die. (Image: Fondation Vaincre Alzheimer, YouTube)

Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Our research shows that 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. EDoN aims to harness the growing popularity of digital health technology and big data to revolutionize how we develop early tests for these diseases. Developing digital fingerprints that can be detected using phone apps or wearable technologies like smart watches would provide a low-cost approach to identifying those most at risk of disease.

“Identifying the very earliest changes in these diseases would transform research efforts today, giving us the best chance of stopping these diseases before the symptoms of dementia start to get in the way of life.”

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In December 2018, the UK 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.