Alzheimer’s Diagnostics Accelerator Program Awards Nearly $3.5M to Develop Early-detection Methods

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by Mary Chapman |

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Selected through the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation’s (ADDF) Diagnostics Accelerator program, four scientists will share nearly $3.5 million to develop new biomarkers for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.

Philanthropists, including ADDF co-founder Leonard Lauder, Bill Gates and Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, are expected to fund $10 million in ADDF awards this year, and $50 million over the next three years.

This first round of awards will focus on biomarkers in the blood, eyes, and other fluids and tissues. Results of a second request for proposals — this one about digital tests — are expected by year’s end.

”After an extensive review, we selected research that showed promise in accelerating the development of innovative diagnostic tools such as blood tests and eye scans,” said a press release statement by Howard Fillit, MD, ADDF founding executive director and chief science officer. “Unlike heart disease and cancer, we lack simple and cost-effective diagnostic tools and biomarkers that are critical to finding ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease.”

Such tools and biomarkers, he added, would foster a better understanding of how Alzheimer’s progresses, and make clinical therapy trials more robust and efficient.

Awardees were honored recently at the ADDF’s 13th Annual Connoisseurs Dinner to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Diagnostics Accelerator. They were selected from among nearly 300 proposals from 30 countries on six continents.

The selected investigators are:

  •  Saliha Moussaoui, PhD, of Amoneta Diagnostics in France will receive up to $2 million to develop a fast-acting non-invasive diagnostic test to predict mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s. In the proposed test panel, two species of ribonucleic acids that are stable in blood and indicate early detection of Alzheimer’s will be measured.
  •  Kaj Blennow, MD, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden has been awarded $500,000 to develop the first ultra-sensitive blood test for brain-specific tau protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease show accumulation of tau protein aggregates, which are thought to precede the loss of nerve cells, shrinkage of the brain, and cognitive impairment.
  •  Tom MacGillivray, PhD, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, will use nearly $489,000 to study an innovative mix of retinal biomarkers with advanced imaging analyses. The biomarkers capture neurodegeneration and vascular dysfunction found frequently in Alzheimer’s. If successful, results could be used as a cloud-based system for examining retinal images or for incorporation into eye scan device software.
  •  Peter van Wijngaarden, PhD, of the Centre for Eye Research Australia, has been awarded $420,000 to test whether a novel eye-imaging method can supplant pricey positron emission tomography (PET) imaging or invasive cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests for Alzheimer’s, and be used to find early indications of disease. Using a more portable and affordable prototype camera, the simplified eye scan can detect amyloid in the retina before signs of cognitive decline. Amyloid protein forms aggregates (plaques) that accumulate between nerve cells in the brain and disrupts their function.

Created last summer, the Diagnostics Accelerator research program hopes to speed development of inexpensive peripheral and digital biomarkers for Alzheimer’s and related disorders, and to promote development of more-targeted therapies. In a 2017 blog post, billionaire Gates outlined several areas for which more Alzheimer’s study is needed.

Founded in 1998, the ADDF has awarded more than $115 million to some 590 Alzheimer’s drug discovery programs and clinical trials in 18 countries.

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