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£11m investment into digital innovations to detect and diagnose dementia

Illustration of a neuron

Published: 08 March 2023

NIHR has invested nearly £11m of funding to develop new digital approaches for the early detection and diagnosis of dementia. The funding will also help to identify people most at risk of developing the condition, which affects nearly 1 million people across the UK.

Dementia has become one of the most important health and social care challenges facing the world, and improving treatment for the condition is a top priority for both the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care and for the NIHR.

Prioritised funding for dementia

The new research has been supported by NIHR’s Invention for Innovation funding programme (i4i) through a funding call focused on dementia, which funded 6 projects from multidisciplinary research groups.

Funded projects include research to spot the early signs of dementia using a huge range of innovative tests. Researchers are investigating tests including spatial awareness, image recognition, hearing tests, and monitoring sleep disturbances.

The money allocated to these new projects is a substantial boost for research funding into the dementia. The  projects will start in early 2023, and can last up to 5 years, to provide time to support further development of digital biomarkers for dementia.

Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR CEO, said: “New technologies have the potential to radically transform healthcare for the future. Improving methods for treating and living with dementia is work of vital public interest.

"These studies will also support the dementia healthcare mission in the Life Science Vision, as we look for new ways of understanding whether drugs are working by using digital biomarkers.

"Such significant investment in these important projects shows that the UK is at the cutting edge of research into one of the most pressing health and care issues of our time."

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: "New technologies are helping to ensure that people are diagnosed sooner, treated faster and have the best possible care. These projects are developing reliable ways to detect dementia earlier through new technology such as a sensor that fits under a mattress to monitor changes in sleep patterns."

"We have already committed to doubling dementia research funding to £160m a year by 2024/25, on top of announcing our new Major Conditions Strategy that will set out actions across multiple conditions, including dementia, mental health, cancer, and health disparities. This will make sure work across these areas is joined up, alleviates pressure on the health system and supports people to live healthier lives for longer."

Professor Mike Lewis, i4i Programme Director and NIHR Scientific Director of Innovation said: "Tackling the challenge of dementia needs fresh new approaches and that's exactly what this funding call was intended to catalyse. We're really excited to see the potential of these technologies to transform the way this devastating disease is detected and diagnosed, to bring hope to people with the condition and their families."

Funded projects

Dr Anne Corbett, University of Exeter - £1,948,424
Title: Clinical validation and commercialisation of the ReaCTIVE app: A proactive, interactive cognitive monitoring and intervention solution for people with early cognitive impairment
Exploring whether a new app can help monitor brain health in people with early memory problems, help keep their brains healthy and support doctors with information about their patients’ health and risk of developing dementia.

Dr Dennis Chan, University College London - £1,975,285
Title: Spatial biomarkers of early Alzheimer's disease (SABRE)
Detecting Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages with tests of spatial navigation and memory, running on smartphones and wearable augmented reality devices that can easily be used at home or in GP surgeries.

Professor David Sharp, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine - £1,509,552
Title: Detecting and monitoring dementia using dynamic digital biomarkers of night-time behaviour and sleep
Developing a way to identify people with the early signs of dementia by measuring changes in sleep and night-time behaviour, using a commercially available sensor that fits under a mattress.

Professor Sarah Pendlebury, University of Oxford - £2,049,967
Title: Identifying older patients at high short-term risk of dementia and cognitive decline using routinely collected hospital electronic clinical and brain imaging data to improve care
Identifying older hospital patients at high risk of dementia using hospital electronic patient records and brain scans - using this information as a ‘digital biomarker’ to spot early signs that could show who is most at risk.

Dr George Stothart, University of Bath - £1,499,639
Title: Diagnosing dementia using Fastball neurocognitive assessment
Developing an image-recognition test called Fastball that can help detect the early stages of dementia. Fastball uses EEG brain scans to see activity from areas of the brain that recognise images, to show whether the person remembers the pictures.

Dr Charles Marshall, Queen Mary University of London - £1,787,342
Title: Digital assessment of auditory perception in dementia (DIADEM)
Evaluating new hearing tests that measure early brain changes in dementia. The tests are sensitive, relevant, easy to administer and can be used in diverse populations, and could be a cost-effective tool for the NHS.

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