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NPL joins consortium developing a digital toolkit for the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases

EDoN aims to develop an innovative approach to detect diseases like Alzheimer’s years before symptoms show

NPL has joined Alzheimer’s Research UK’s global initiative, Early Detection of Neurodegenerative diseases (EDoN), as a consortium partner for three years.

EDoN is the largest initiative of its kind that will collect, share and analyse clinical and digital health data to develop an innovative approach to detect diseases like Alzheimer’s years before the symptoms of dementia start.

According to a 2015 report from the World Health Organisation, by 2030, global dementia prevalence is expected to rise to 75 million at a cost of approximately £1.5 trillion. A major challenge for tackling the rising numbers of people with dementia is the lack of effective disease-modifying treatments.

The diseases that cause dementia are diagnosed when symptoms like memory loss start. To have the best chance of halting them, we need to intervene decades earlier, when these diseases first start to take hold. However, the current methods that have potential for the early detection of dementia-causing diseases, such as positron emission tomography and cerebrospinal fluid sampling, are invasive and costly, which constitutes a barrier to the large-scale assessment of dementia risk.

EDoN was established by Alzheimer’s Research UK to address this challenge and aims to collect huge amounts of digital data and link it to clinical data such as brain scans to identify digital data patterns that allow us to detect the earliest signs of these diseases.

Healthcare is increasingly and routinely generating large volumes of data from various sources, which are difficult to handle and integrate. Establishing confidence in data is necessary for establishing trustworthiness and traceability, not only in the data itself, but also in the analysis and interpretation methods. NPL’s involvement in the initiative draws on its expertise in data science and metrology by providing this confidence in the measurement data generated and in the data analysis techniques used.

NPL will undertake analysis and harmonisation of imaging data to make the most efficient use of data and enable the separation of true patient variability from measurement variability, as well as provide data analysis tools to pool information across cohorts and find traceable and explainable patterns.

Ultimately the consortium aims to develop and test a digital toolkit that can pick up on the data patterns in people who don’t have the obvious symptoms of dementia. This could transform research efforts, helping scientists make faster breakthroughs in understanding the diseases that cause dementia and enabling them to test potential new preventions and treatments.

NPL’s participation in the consortium extends a collaboration which already includes University of Cambridge, The Alan Turing Institute, MRC Harwell Institute, UCL, University of Exeter, University of Oxford, Newcastle University and the University of Sussex.

Nadia Smith, Senior Research Scientist, Data Science, NPL said: “We are very excited to be part of EDoN and to join such a talented consortium of cross-disciplinary experts. The development of a digital toolkit that will pick up early warning signs of dementia will be transformational for research and understanding of disease, and we are pleased to be able to provide data science metrology support for this.”

Michael Adeogun, NPL’s Head of Health commented: “NPL is delighted to be working as part of the EDoN initiative and providing our expertise in metrology to support the consortium’s ambition of enabling the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases and shaping the future of healthcare. As the UK’s National Metrology Institute (NMI) our participation in the EDoN consortium aligns well with our goals of delivering excellence in measurement and supporting the healthcare innovations which will enable improved outcomes for patients across the UK and globally.”

Zoe Kourtzi, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge and Scientific Director for EDoN, said: “We are delighted to be working with the NPL Data Science team on the EDoN initiative. They will work together with the initiative’s core academic teams to build models for early prediction of dementia from digital data years before symptoms occur, when interventions may be more effective. Working with NPL experts on metrology and gold standards will ensure that EDoN builds explainable and trustworthy data-driven solutions for early and precise prediction for neurodegenerative disorders.”

Mike Oldham, Director of EDoN at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The diseases that cause dementia can start in the brain up to two decades before symptoms show. To give life-changing new treatments the best chance of success, we need to be giving them as early as possible in the disease. EDoN is breaking new ground in searching for digital fingerprints of early disease. We hope that this work will give us the best chance of stopping these diseases before the symptoms of dementia start to get in the way of life – keeping people connected to their worlds, their families and themselves for longer.”

04 Nov 2021