Five things we learned at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Clinical Conference 2021
It was fantastic to see so many clinicians engaging with each other and discussing a range of key topics across the clinical landscape during the Alzheimer’s Research UK Clinical Conference 2021.
We made the decision to hold the event virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite not being together in person, with more than 270 delegates we were delighted to see so much discussion across the two-day event. Our line-up of speakers offered insights that, judging by the many questions that followed each session, piqued the interest of our online audience.
A key aim of the Clinical Conference is to create a link between research and clinical practice, and the importance of this was evident across the entire event.
Here are our top five takeaways from this year’s conference:
Collaboration is key for health services to adapt to life-changing treatments
An interesting discussion featuring perspectives from psychiatry and neurology services agreed that the arrival of life-changing treatments for dementia will mean health services will have to change to be able to deliver them most effectively to people who need them.
There was a particularly interesting debate about how the workforce will need to adapt to the arrival of a life-changing treatment. Could a life-changing treatment could be the trigger for psychiatry, neurology and stroke physicians to work more closely together, even forming a new specialty, and offer a more joined up approach in treating people with diseases like Alzheimer’s?
The role of brain health clinics was also discussed and that they could help manage the early stages of dementia. This would become even more significant in the event of a life-changing treatment becoming available as more people would be likely to seek an early diagnosis.
Our speakers also pointed out that as the diseases that cause dementia are so complex, improvements brought about by any one new treatment are likely to be small. But each individual drug that successfully comes into use will be another step forward.
We must make it easier for more people to get involved in clinical research
A wide-ranging panel discussion looked at the challenges of organising and running clinical trials.
Our panellists agreed that bringing more research into clinical practice can benefit people with dementia as well as clinicians, but actually getting patients involved in it is one of the biggest challenges. They recognised that clinicians can do more to ensure research is part of the culture of their service and to take every opportunity to share research opportunities with patients.
While the panel agreed that the majority of people are keen to take part in research, they discussed the need for greater diversity of people involved as well as a need for personal perseverance in overcoming the challenges of setting up successful research projects.
There was strong agreement that the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic should be applied to clinical trials more widely. Our panellists felt that if the same focus and resources that went into developing and approving a COVID-19 vaccine were channelled into the search for a life-changing treatment for dementia, we would see positive results.
A rich array of clinical trials for dementia treatments are under way in the UK
It was encouraging to hear about a range of clinical trials focusing on a range of diseases that cause dementia.
The presentations set out insights across the field from potential new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease through to those that ease the symptoms of diseases that cause dementia. The results of many of these trials were mixed, but there were encouraging signs, particularly in the discussions about protein clearance in Alzheimer’s disease, and a trial for an antipsychotic treatment.
Our speakers also made some interesting points about the challenges that come with running trials for the prevention of dementia. Many hope a wider trial looking at chronic diseases more generally may tell us more about how preventative measures can reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia.
The latest innovations in diagnosis research are starting to reach clinical practice
There has been much recent progress in research to develop new tests for dementia that work by measuring biological markers of disease, such as changes in blood or spinal fluid. We are just starting to see such tests be available in clinical practice.
In particular, the potential for a blood test in future that could detect some of the brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s or other diseases that cause dementia, could be a big step forward in the way that doctors can diagnose these diseases. While hugely promising, our speakers recognised that we need to carefully explore how such new tests could be used by clinicians.
Clinicians are hopeful about the future for people with dementia
The latest thinking on the various diseases that cause dementia – such as frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy Bodies – revealed some common themes.
Key among them was the importance of working together to better understand the molecular underpinnings of these diseases, and how doing so can bring us closer to finding life-changing treatments. It was good to hear that this spirit of collaboration allied with advances in research has given hope and encouragement for the future.
Discussions in this area also included the challenges that non-specialist clinicians face when diagnosing people with these diseases, and the impact that this can have on patients.
After such an engaging and interesting conference, we cannot wait to hold next year’s event. We intend to hold the Clinical Conference every year and look forward to many more insightful discussions from clinicians working on dementia in the years to come.