NHS Research Scotland: Scotland proud to host first-of-its-kind Alzheimer’s research challenge

28th March 2024

Scotland has been selected to host a first-of-its-kind Alzheimer’s research competition, representing ‘significant recognition of the country’s wealth of world-leading expertise,’ says the Chief Scientist for Health

Professor Anna Dominiczak welcomed the news that Scotland has already launched the Bio-Hermes Biomarker Data Challenge, granting access to what has been called “the most comprehensive set of dementia biomarker data in the world”.

Scotland was chosen by the Global Alzheimer’s Platform Foundation® (GAP) – focused on accelerating Alzheimer’s research and delivery of treatments – for its “unprecedented commitment to a broad and accelerated process” and “unique know-how”.

Professor Dominiczak said: “I am extremely proud of this collaborative achievement for Scotland which serves to underline our place on the world’s map as a key research leader.

“Thanks in part to Chief Scientist Office (CSO) funding which has helped with dementia specialists’ involvement, I believe it represents significant recognition of the country’s wealth of innovative, cutting-edge expertise, but also acknowledgement of its ability to work at pace and with precision.

“Indeed, it was noted that the diverse Scottish research community had acted swiftly in securing access to the GAP data and then launching the challenge which will leverage ground-breaking early blood testing studies.”

She added: “The challenge is an exciting proposition with so many possibilities for experts from different fields to get involved and potentially offer up completely new ideas – the very essence of Scottish innovation through the centuries. I am greatly looking forward to seeing what emerges from it.”

Researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews – under the auspices of the Scottish Funding Council’s Brain Health ARC – believe the first-of-its-kind open access data competition will inspire researchers from any field to produce “bold ideas and breakthroughs in the fight against this devastating disease”.

The final date for submissions is Sunday 31 March.

The data for the challenge was derived from GAP’s Bio-Hermes study which, it said, brought together the world’s leading digital and traditional cognitive assessment companies along with leading pharmaceutical partners to study cutting edge blood tests, brain scans and other tests for the diagnosis of dementia.

The study’s 80,000 test results are now available to researchers in Scotland on the AD Workbench – a global data sharing and analytics environment that enables researchers to share, access and analyse data across multiple platforms – from the Alzheimer’s Disease Data Initiative.

GAP believes the challenge is already “uniting the Scottish dementia research community, offering a platform for new ideas, and creating a legacy of collaboration and early career researcher development” and that the highly diverse data could be vital in answering important questions relating to Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Terry Quinn, David Cargill Chair and Honorary Consultant Physician in Geriatric and Stroke Medicine at the University of Glasgow, and lead on the new platform, said: “Dementia research needs new ideas, and we are hoping that the data challenge produces something leftfield.

“We are really keen to support someone with a good question about dementia that comes from a non-dementia related disciplines like maths, engineering, physics etc, – their fresh ideas could lead to a breakthrough”.

“There is a lot of talk about open science and data being available to anyone, but some open data are more open than others, requiring access fees, complex approvals, or sophisticated software. What we have is a platform of dementia biomarker data that is truly open to anyone with a good question. In theory, any member of the public could submit a question.

“Through a bit of hard work and determination, we have delivered a data access platform that is truly the envy of the world – and we did it in a few months. This is democratising the world of dementia data.”

Professor Frank Gunn-Moore from the University of St Andrews said: “This data challenge is a great example of how we can bring Universities and organisations together to tackle one of the major issues of our time. It has been the catalyst to bring in all interested researchers no matter where they work and so truly democratising research for all.”

President of GAP, John Dwyer, said: “Upon hearing of the keen appetite of the Scottish research community for more data to pursue research into Alzheimer’s and related dementias, it was the ideal opportunity to offer unique access to our robust data set.”

To apply, complete a copy of the application before submitting your answers in the online form by March 31 2024.

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