Alzheimer’s Society Research Grants Officer Kasia Kuleszewicz explains more about the TADPOLE challenge, an exciting new research project that is open to more than just traditional university-based researchers and aims to bring us closer to understanding how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
We have united with top international researchers to boost research into Alzheimer’s disease prevention. A key challenge of treating Alzheimer’s disease is that by the time it is diagnosed in the clinic, the changes in the brain may be too advanced to be reversed. Most clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease carried out so far have targeted build ups of a particular protein known as amyloid. Sadly, results from these drug trials have been disappointing and an effective cure or treatment has not been found. This may partly be because treatment is started too late in the course of the disease to be effective.
Researchers are now developing a new method, called prevention trials, to identify people who are the most likely to develop the condition in the future, but do not yet have symptoms. One of the main challenges in designing these types of trials is that Alzheimer’s affects people in many different ways and it is very difficult to predict how the disease will progress for each person. Whilst some people might progress from having mild problems with their memory to Alzheimer’s very quickly, for others with memory problems they might decline more slowly or never go on to develop the disease. This can create difficulties for trials that are testing drugs designed to slow the rate of disease progression over 1-2 years; if people in the study naturally have a very slow course of progression then this may mask any real effect of the drug. Being able to understand more about how the condition is likely to progress in an individual person would significantly improve the design of future trials by helping to select the most appropriate people to enter trials. This will help ensure that the results gained are a genuine representation of how the drug works.
Making use of existing data
Alzheimer’s Society, the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the European Progression of Neurological Disease (EuroPOND) Consortium have united with the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) to launch a new international competition called ‘The Alzheimer’s Disease Prediction of Longitudinal Evolution (TADPOLE)’ challenge. The ADNI study involves a large number of people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease who undergo a series of rigorous tests to track potential disease-related changes. These data include brain imaging, psychology, demographics and genetics. Contestants will use historical measurements collected during the ADNI study to create models that can help to predict how Alzheimer’s disease might progress over time. The entrants’ task will be to accurately predict who will develop signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the next five years.
Researchers have been building models to try and predict decline in individual people for many years and around the world there are many that have been developed, but these different models are rarely compared to each other. In TADPOLE, contestants will stand shoulder to shoulder with their counterparts to find out who can best predict the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in individual people over a period of five years. The competition is open to a diverse group of participants, from established researchers to citizen scientists and high school and university students.
The entrants must submit their predictive models by November 15 2017. However, the competition results will not be known straight away. Participants of ADNI study will be assessed throughout 2018 and their new data stored. Once the future measurements are available, these data are going to be used to determine whose model best followed the person’s progression. The models that gave the most accurate prediction will win a share of £30k.
These predictive models could significantly improve the way that people with Alzheimer’s disease receive treatment in the future. We will be able to see which of the measurements that are routinely taken in the clinic can be best used to understand Alzheimer’s disease progression. This will allow us to choose the most suitable drugs for individual people and will allow more powerful measurement of the potential effects of drugs in clinical trials. This has the potential to significantly speed up the search fora cure for Alzheimer’s disease.