Case study

Medical imaging: diagnosing dementia earlier

Innovate UK grant funding is helping IXICO research and develop imaging technology that enables early, accurate diagnosis of dementia.

Dr Kate McLeish, IXICO

Dementia is a UK and global health and economic challenge affecting an estimated 800,000 people in the UK and 36 million worldwide – with numbers doubling every 20 years.

There is currently no cure, but early and accurate diagnosis can have a significant positive impact on patients, enabling them to access support and treatment that slows the progress of the disease.

Medical imaging specialist IXICOhas a strong track record in providing imaging solutions to some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies for use in clinical trials. It’s developing tools that make early and accurate diagnosis of dementia quicker, cheaper and more accessible.

Dr Kate McLeish, Vice President of Technology at IXICO says:

Innovate UK is a long term partner and ally in the fight against dementia. Without its support it would take us far longer to develop new products.

In 2008 Innovate UK grant funding for a project helped IXICO develop its image analysis technology for use in clinical trials of drugs for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This was a stepping stone to two further projects applying the same technology to diagnosing dementia,

Catalyst for change

Both projects were funded via the Biomedical Catalyst - an £180 million funding programme for businesses and academics in the life sciences sector managed jointly by Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council. Grants totalling over £39 million have been awarded to over 30 projects led by SMEs and universities to accelerate the development of innovative solutions to healthcare challenges - including dementia.

In late 2012 it contributed over £2 million in grant funding to the ‘Digital Healthcare Platform for Early Dementia Diagnosis’ project. The remaining funding came from IXICO and project partners, Cambridge Cognition, Imperial College, King’s College and Sussex University.

IXICO researched, tested and developed a digital diagnostic tool - Assessa - that measures, compares and combines information about the brain. It uses a mix of memory and thinking tests and computerised analysis of MRI brain scans to support early and accurate diagnosis of whether a patient has dementia - something currently available only in a few specialist centres.

IXICO and its partners researched, tested and developed a refined version of this technology for national roll-out. It’s now gearing up for the enrolment of the first NHS patient in a Sussex-based project evaluating how Assessa works in the community.

It’s also creating a similar product for the Chinese healthcare system – and identifying the partners needed to enter this market - thanks £200,000 grant funding for a feasibility study. China is estimated to have 25% of the world’s dementia cases (6 to 10 million with 80% undiagnosed).

In December 2013 IXICO signed an agreement with the Beijing Union Medical and Pharmaceutical General Corporation – to work together to support dementia diagnosis and advance public understanding of the disease.

Dr McLeish comments:

There’s a pressing need for technology to support early diagnosis of dementia in the community in China. The country’s one child policy means some people may have four grandparents to care for. Drug and non-drug interventions can extend independent life and ease the strain.

Looking forward

IXICO continues to forge ahead. Future projects include developing a dementia prognosis tool combining data collected through MRI scans and cognitive tests with demographic data, to help diagnose patients by predicting their outcomes and expected rate of decline.

It will also continue to work closely with pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions to refine its diagnostic tools further and test them on patients internationally.

Dr McLeish adds:

Support from Innovate UK has made this groundbreaking work possible. It keeps the UK at the cutting edge of research into how we identify and treat this devastating disease.

Find out more about Innovate UK grant funding via the Catalyst programme

Published 3 November 2014