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Foundations Direct $5M for Neurodegenerative Tests

Brain cell networks

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

21 Nov. 2019. Two foundations are spending $5 million to develop new diagnostics for frontotemporal degeneration, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder and form of dementia. The $5 million award by the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration and Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation is made to the Bluefield Project, a consortium of several academic medical centers, supporting research on frontotemporal degeneration.

Frontotemporal degeneration or dementia, or FTD, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. FTD is marked by a gradual decline in behavior or language, similar to dementia, but usually not affecting memory. People with FTD often find it difficult to plan or organize activities, engage in social interactions, behave appropriately in professional situations, or care for oneself. According to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, the progression of symptoms in behavior or language can vary from 2 to 20 years.

In July 2018, the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration and Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation formed a joint venture called Diagnostics Accelerator to support development of diagnostics for FTD, as reported by Science & Enterprise. Diagnostics Accelerator aims to find biomarkers — specific chemical indicators in the body — to detect early development of FTD and Alzheimer’s disease, and develop simple, non-invasive tests that identify the presence of these biomarkers before damage to the brain becomes extensive.

About a quarter of FTD cases are caused by inherited mutations, say the organizations, making the need more vital to identify biomarkers of the disease. Current diagnostics, say the organizations, are based on a limited number of biomarkers, and require confirmation by MRI or PET neuroimaging, or cerebrospinal fluid samples.

The new grant to the Bluefield Project is expected to support researchers to evaluate the neurofilament light chain, or NfL, protein in blood as a biomarker for FTD, in individuals with mutations that put people at risk for the disease. NfL is found in the brain, but can appear in the blood when cells in the brain start to break down due to injury or disease. The funding organizations believe testing for the biomarker will lead to more efficient clinical trials and eventually treatments for FTD.

“Most families face a very long journey to an accurate diagnosis: nearly four years on average,” says Susan Dickinson, CEO of Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration in an organization statement released through PR Newswire. “Through the Diagnostics Accelerator, we are hopeful that our investment in FTD biomarkers will bring earlier, more accurate diagnosis as well as more effective clinical trials.”

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