A pan-European consortium of researchers and diagnostics experts led by Plymouth University has received funding of €3.5 million for a project which could revolutionise the effectiveness of Alzheimer’s diagnosis and clinical drug trials – which in turn may lead to disease-modifying treatments and prevention strategies.

The funding comes from European (Horizons 2020) Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA).

Blood Biomarker-based Diagnostic Tools for Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease will address a common reason for the failure of clinical trials relating to Alzheimer’s, which is the lack of specific, sensitive and minimally-invasive ways to identify people with the early stages of the condition. Such people are vital to the success of clinical drug trials.

Central to the diagnostics problem is the identification of Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers and the development of techniques to aid that identification. The research required to achieve this is complex and requires input from academics and industrial experts from across a number of disciplines.

As a consequence there is a need to train a new generation of researchers, a need which is addressed with the establishment of a much needed European Training Network (ETN) for blood-based early-Alzheimer’s disease diagnostics and the creation of Fellows.

It brings together leading academic and industrial experts from five major consortia in Europe. Together they are developing a research and training platform incorporating entrepreneurship, multidisciplinary expertise and cutting-edge technologies in biomarker discovery, clinical trials, graphene and ELISA biosensing, and big data processing.

Fellows will be trained under the combination of an interdisciplinary, cross-sector and international research platform together with the established Vitae Researcher Development Framework. It aims to delivery its first generation of 13 highly-skilled, creative and entrepreneurial Fellows and set them on a path to successful careers in academia or industry and with a commitment to meeting the medical and societal challenges imposed by Alzheimer’s disease.

As well as training Fellows, the ETN has a highly-innovative research programme designed to discover Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers, develop new biosensing techniques and ‘point of care’ tools, and maximise the technical exploitation of diagnostics.

The project is led by Professor Genhua Pan, Professor of Nanomaterials and Devices in the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics at the University of Plymouth. Professor Pan works in collaboration with Professor Emmanuel Ifeachor and Dr Paul Davey of the same School; Professors Nikolaos Tzokas and Shaofeng Liu of Faculty of Business; Drs Xinzhong Li, Camille Carroll and Ian Sheriff of the Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry; together with 10 other beneficiaries and four partners from the academic and industrial sectors across UK, Europe and China.

Professor Pan said: 

“Alzheimer’s disease affects more than seven million people in Europe, and this figure is expected to double every 20 years. The cost of care for people with the condition across Europe stands at €130 million a year. Despite intensive efforts from the worldwide research community, there are currently no treatments available which can modify or prevent the condition. A major obstacle to the success of clinical drug trials has been the inability to accurately diagnose and identify people with early signs of the condition, the involvement of whom in clinical trials would lead to greater success. We believe that project will go a long way to addressing this issue, not just through research but also through the development of a new, unique generation of researchers. We are grateful to the MSCA for this funding.”