PhD Studentship: Portable, Non-Invasive Detection Technology for Timely Diagnosis of Dementias
Dementias evolve as one of the significant health disorders of the century which inexorably cause progressive neuronal degeneration and result in disability or death. Currently, over 35 million individuals worldwide are affected by progressive dementias. With the number of older adults projected to grow over the next decades, the prevalence of dementias is also expected to rise. By 2050 world-health organisation estimates that dementias will affect 115million people worldwide. Most people presently living with dementia worldwide have not received a formal diagnosis and are not being given vital treatment. In high-income countries, only 27% of dementia cases are timely-diagnosed and in primary care. This ‘treatment gap’ is much greater in low and middle income countries, where people have not received a diagnosis and, do not have access to treatment and organised support that getting a timely, cost-effective and non-invasive diagnosis can provide. Clearly, early detection of dementias is a global concern and effective diagnosis and treatment planning are imperative yet, it is far from straightforward.
Although, aging is the primary risk for dementia, pathophysiological changes start years and even decades before cognitive impairment becomes clinically apparent. The diagnosis remains particularly difficult in the early, pre-symptomatic stages with no clinical symptoms and definite conclusions may only be confirmed post-mortem. There is ample evidence that pre-hospital detection and identification of onset of neuro-disorders can improve outcomes for patients, highlighting the unmet need for new technologies to achieve an early intervention through the rapid, accurate diagnostics.
Over the last decade, there has been a considerable effort in identifying biomarkers for clinical manifestations of dementias and several have shown to correlate with severity of neurodegeneration in the hospital setting (via neuroimaging) but, their value is unclear in the earlier stages (in a GP surgery), as there is currently no technology available to measure these compounds at the point-of-care with sufficient timeliness and sensitivity. While pathological decrease in the levels signpost these biomarkers for detecting early disease onset and monitoring its progression to date, these have not been directly measured in patients’ blood. The current analysis modalities are often too expensive or not timely enough to underpin clinical decision making. Therefore, the need for practical and sensitive detection of biomarkers that allow the monitoring of neuronal cellular dysfunction in dementias is urgent.
To meet this need, our aim is to develop portable technology with advanced functions and performance to underpin timely dementias diagnostics through the detection of minute biomarker levels from blood. Such technology will facilitate a paradigm shift from invasive, delayed and expensive medical investigation and prognosis, delivering pioneering research into the development of diagnostic platform that will enable cost-effective, non-invasive and sensitive diagnosis, intervention and monitoring of dementias at pre-symptomatic stages. A ground-breaking, portable technology will be based on advanced integrated micro-engineered surface enhanced Raman scattering (IM-SERS) lab-on-a-chip, encompassing benefits of miniaturisation with versatility, enabling detection of early-cognitive impairment neuormarkers directly from blood. By developing a sensitive and rapid detection technique via simple blood test, it will enable early neurodiagnostics and improved patients’ management. IM-SERS will be critical for predictive identification of individuals at-risk of dementia onset during the preclinical period and will help doctors target patients, who will be encouraged to improve their lifestyles to cut their chance of developing disease, paving the way towards preventative therapy in pre-symptomatic individuals.
Addressing the major global challenge of ensuring that longer lives are of sufficient quality and ameliorating the detrimental effects on society of a large population of dependent people with dementias requires just the revolution in approach that this project embodies. This inherently interdisciplinary project is an excellent fit under the theme of “Understanding and Tackling Global Challenges” and more specifically, contributes to addressing the “Engineering/technology in development contexts” capabilities by providing highly-sensitive disruptive technology to detect the early signs of dementias. It is also in alignment with “Mental Health and Wellbeing”, where this research will contribute to meeting the grand challenges in dementia diagnostics, providing an inexpensive tool for the practical screening of susceptible individuals prior to manifesting neurodegeneration. Timely detection using the developed technology will be the key to enabling early treatment, crucial to the transformation from symptomatic to disease-modifying therapies.
Global Challenges Scholarship Scheme