therapeutic-areas-central-nervous-system-disease-stage

Diagnostics for central nervous system diseases

Protecting the bridge between our body and mind

Published 23 June 2021

The human brain is arguably the most powerful entity on the planet – understanding it has long been one of mankind’s greatest goals and one of our most significant challenges.

Our nervous system connects us to the world, enabling perception and helping us to foster a sense of self.

The central nervous system (CNS) is a complex, sophisticated network of neurons that includes our brain and spinal cord. It regulates and coordinates the body’s activities and helps form our very identity. Disruption to its structure or function can have a profound impact on a person as well as those around them. One of the most common impairments of the nervous system is degeneration – the progressive loss in function or death of neurons. This could result in problems with movement (ataxia) or memory loss (dementia).

central nervous system
The central nervous system is referred to as “central” because it combines information from the entire body and coordinates activity. However, factors like trauma, infections, stroke, tumours and neurodegeneration can have a profound effect on function.

Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. An estimated 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and nearly 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year.1 The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease remains one of society’s greatest public health challenges, costing an estimated USD 818 billion (1.1% of the global GDP)1 and placing immeasurable burden on patients and their loved ones. What is clearly evident is that detecting and diagnosing Alzheimer’s early is vitally important for mitigating the progress of disease, as well as helping people and their families gain a clearer picture of the future.2

Diagnosing disease to improve care and inform treatment

Diagnostic tests and procedures are vital tools that allow doctors and researchers to better understand what goes on inside the body. The diagnosis of central nervous system disease is largely based on clinical symptoms and cognitive testing. More recent understandings have shown that this approach alone is associated with a high rate of misdiagnosis, and may results in people being diagnosed only once their condition had already advanced.3

To address the challenge of diagnosing these highly complex diseases, new diagnostic strategies were required. Today, biological indicators, called biomarkers, are increasingly used to help understand, accurately diagnose and manage diseases.

Imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), provide essential information, but may not always yield a conclusive diagnosis.

Reading the body’s signals throughout the journey

When faced with the possibility of disease, access to the right information can offer some clarity and relief. From informing lifestyle changes that could help to slow the decline in cognitive functions to optimizing treatment, biomarker testing is opening new opportunities for people with CNS disease.

Supporting earlier, more accurate diagnosis:

In the early stages CNS, symptoms are less noticeable, or they may just be thought of as part of normal aging. Biomarker testing allows for an accurate diagnosis decades before symptoms are noticed.

Monitoring progression of the disease:

Measuring changes in biomarkers can help us to understand how quickly a person’s disease is advancing – and, potentially, predict how it may develop in the future. Broader use of biomarker monitoring could help doctors to build personalized care plans.

Measuring response to treatment:

Enabling doctors to detect early signs a person is or is not responding to a medicine, allows treatment to be adjusted as needed. This plays an important role in clinical trials and will become more important for doctors and patients as treatments become available.

For many, the right diagnosis and support can put relatively normal lives within reach. Advances in biomarker testing, a growing number of dementia-inclusive communities, and open clinical trials for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease are transforming future outlooks. In the absence of a cure, people can now look to become an advocate for hope.

 

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Advancing care with research and innovation

The complexities of CNS disease require continued research. Across testing and treatment, we are working to develop impactful diagnostic and therapeutic solutions that meet the real needs of people affected with these emotionally draining conditions. Some success has already been realized.

  • New techniques, using biomarkers found in the fluid of the spinal column and around the brain, can identify peptides that have been closely linked to Alzheimer’s disease
  • Our digital biomarker platform remotely monitors the symptom progression of Parkinson’s disease to empower research communities and identify those who will most likely benefit from developmental drugs in clinical trials

As we continue to improve the information we provide to clinicians, faster, more accurate, and more personalised care will soon provide clarity and hope to people and families around the world.

References

  1. World Health Organization. Dementia. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia. Accessed 23 March 2021.
  2. Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia Update UK. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/migrate/downloads/dementia_uk_update.pdf. Accessed May 23, 2021.
  3. Gaugler JE, et al. Characteristics of patients misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and their medication use: an analysis of the NACC-UDS database. BMC Geriatr. 2013;13:137.

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Tags: Science, Innovation, Society, Patients, Diagnostics, Neuroscience, Alzheimer's disease