Edinburgh University is spearheading the £50million European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia (Epad) project, which could transform understanding of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and how it leads to dementia.
Scientists think there is a window of opportunity in our 30s or 40s where the biological signs of dementia start to appear, many years before symptoms such as memory loss.
Julie Duffus, who lives near Edinburgh, is the first person to take part in the project, which aims to recruit 6,000 volunteers from across Europe.
Her mother Beryl was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her early 80s, taking part in a clinical trial for a widely-used drug before her death in 2005.
Four years later her father Bert was also found to have the condition. He died in 2012.
Ms Duffus, who is in her late 50s, said: “My mum and dad both had Alzheimer’s disease so I’ve seen first-hand the devastating effects it has on patients’ lives and those around them.
“Both my parents were involved in research themselves so it is important for me to play my part too. I hope that my contribution will in some way help find better ways of diagnosing the disease and potentially to prevent it.”
Participants will have regular blood tests and brain scans over a period of five years, and researchers will also track their thinking skills with detailed cognitive tests.
Those thought to be at highest risk of developing dementia will then be invited to take part in clinical trials.
Professor Craig Ritchie, from Edinburgh University, said: “This is an important milestone in our quest to better understand the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s dementia.
“Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease are often present for up to 20 years before a person develops any symptoms.
“We believe that if we can identify these people sooner, early intervention may have greater success.”