Diagnosing dementia — including the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease — usually requires at least several weeks of different kinds of tests and assessments.
But what if, one day, dementia could be diagnosed with a blood test? Something relatively low-cost, quick and accessible to many?
Biomarker research holds the key to this potential diagnosis improvement. For many years, researchers nationally and internationally have been trying to figure out what materials in blood, spinal fluid and even tears could indicate a positive test for dementia.
Right now, biomarker testing is actually available for spinal fluid in Canada for Alzheimer's disease — a wonderful advancement. But it can only be used in conjunction with other tests as a confirmation, and it requires a lumbar puncture.
Where are blood testing developments at right now? Or eye tissue, tears or other possible biomarker tests for dementia?
This is what we discussed at the January 17, 2024, edition of Dementia Talks! Canada. The speakers for this event were all recent recipients of awards from the Alzheimer Society Research Program and/or Brain Canada Foundation. Speakers included:
- Michael Adachi, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University who is working on developing a simple, low-cost screening tool that can detect multiple Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers
- Jennifer Cooper, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia who is researching blood-based biomarkers of neurodegeneration
- Printha Wijesinghe, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia who is researching tear-based biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease
This discussion is the latest edition of Dementia Talks! Canada, a monthly talks series produced by Alzheimer Society of Canada and Brain Canada. To view previous talks, visit alzheimer.ca/talks or youtube.com/alzheimercanada.
If you have questions about this or any other edition of Dementia Talks! Canada, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Links shared in the talk chat
- Native Women’s Association of Canada webpage on Aging and Dementia https://nwac.ca/policy/aging-and-dementia
- Anishinaabek Dementia Care https://anishinaabekdementiacare.ca
- Indigenous Cognition and Aging Awareness Research Exchange https://i-caare.ca
- National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health https://nccih.ca
- Source material drawn upon for introductory slide presentation: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/science/biomarker
- Other source material for the slide presentation: https://www.nursingcenter.com/ncblog/november-2019/biomarker
- A final source for the slide presentation: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-symptoms-and-diagnosis/how-biomarkers-help-diagnose-dementia
- Alzheimer Society Research Program’s winners this year https://alzheimer.ca/en/research/alzheimer-society-research-program/latest-funding-results
- On the 4 drugs approved to manage Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in Canada https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/how-can-i-treat-dementia/medications-approved-treat-alzheimers-disease-canada
- 10 benefits of an earlier diagnosis for dementia https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/do-i-have-dementia/how-get-tested-dementia-tips-individuals-families-friends/10
- About other types of dementia beyond Alzheimer’s disease https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/other-types-dementia
- The testing company Michael mentioned https://www.molecularyou.com/
- IMPACT AD provides spinal fluid testing for dementia specialists in Canada https://www.impactad.org/
- Information about participating in research https://alzheimer.ca/en/research/participate-research
- 10 ways to reduce your risk for dementia https://alzheimer.ca/reduceyourrisk
- Michael and team are seeking patient partners for developing a biomarker sensing platform; find more info at http://nanodevice.fas.sfu.ca/index.php/contact/
More information about the speakers
Michael Adachi, P. Eng., is Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Science at Simon Fraser University.
In 2023, Michael received a Proof of Concept Award from the Alzheimer Society Research Program and Brain Canada Foundation to study sensors for rapid detection of Alzheimer's disease biomarker proteins. In 2022, he also received the Michael Smith Health Research BC 2022 Scholar Award to support research and development of a new sensor that can detect biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease at ultra-low concentrations using a simple and rapid test.
Michael's general research interests are in the areas of nanotechnology and health technologies, particularly diagnostic sensors. The topic of Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers sensors intersects both of these interests. He is also interested in the potential to diagnose disease before other first symptoms may be noticed.
Michael holds a PhD from University of Waterloo, where he studied silicon nanowires for thin film photovoltaics.
Jennifer Cooper is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. She is supervised by Dr. Cheryl Wellington at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.
Jennifer’s research is focused on blood-based biomarkers of neurodegeneration, with a special interest in understanding what we can learn about these biomarkers from healthy populations. Her thesis work brings together four large Canadian research cohorts that span the spectrum of brain health, with the goal of leveraging these data to ultimately determine how to best implement the use of blood-based biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease.
Jennifer is a recipient of the 2023 Alzheimer Society Research Program Doctoral Award and has had her work recognized through various other awards, including a 2023 CIHR Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Award and the Junior Faculty Award at the 2023 International Conference on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases.
Printha Wijesinghe is a postdoctoral fellow and trainee in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, at the University of British Columbia.
Printha was born in northern Sri Lanka, a victim of civil war for over 25 years, and she succeeded many hardships in academia. She received double doctoral degree from Maastricht University, Netherlands, and the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka, during a study period from July 2009 to August 2020. During that time, she conducted research studies to investigate age-related cytoskeletal pathologies in elderly human brains representing South Asian sample populations.
While continuing her PhD activities, Printha migrated to Canada in November 2011 as a skilled immigrant. She started her career in Canada as a part-time research assistant in the University of British Columbia in March 2017, and moved to a postdoctoral trainee position in a field which is more relevant to her PhD work within UBC in March 2021. As a continuation of this position, in July 2023, she received a Postdoctoral Award from Alzheimer Society Research Program, which facilitates her to build her career as an academic scientist within the university setting and to be a role model for trainees who are from diverse backgrounds, cultures and all walks of life.
Printha has published 19 journal articles, one book chapter and 31 international and national presentations as a first- or co-author. Her current research is focused on identifying non-invasive biomarkers to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage – including biomarkers in tears and eye tissues.
Printha’s vision is to become a principal investigator and train individuals to be excellent scientists who can go forward to find new treatments or strategies for debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
At 42:58 in this video, one of the speakers misspoke when they implied that memory loss is a normal part of aging. They meant that memory loss is not a normal part of aging. We regret the error.