Developing and implementing a significant step forward for Alzheimer’s disease

30 May 2022

Over half a million Canadians are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related form of dementia. Given our country’s rapidly aging population the number of people with dementia — and the associated costs of $10.4 billion per year — are projected to double by 2031. This urgent health care challenge is currently being tackled by a multi-disciplinary group of clinicians and scientists. Dr. Mari DeMarco, a Michael Smith Health Research BC Scholar, is leading the project, which also has match funding from Health Research BC.

The IMPACT-AD study, led by Dr. DeMarco, is designed to specifically address barriers to uptake and use of Alzheimer’s disease biomarker testing in the Canadian health care system. Historically, diagnosis has relied heavily on observing the signs and symptoms of the disease and by using basic imaging studies of the brain. Excitingly, this new test measures biomarkers to help identify the disease and identify it earlier in the disease course than is possible without biomarkers. This test is being used by doctors across Canada that specialize in dementia care. Patient samples are sent to the clinical laboratory at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver for analysis and the results are used by doctors to better direct care for their patients.

Clinical application of the IMPACT-AD study outcomes is changing the approach to diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in Canada for the better. The study is investigating the impact of this new testing on medical care and getting the direct perspective of individuals living with dementia.

“With a more confident diagnosis because of biomarker testing, patients are reporting a lessening of their anxiety around having an answer about their declining brain health, and both patients and their family members are recognizing the need to plan for the future, such as for caregiving responsibilities and financial matters.”

Copyright: Dr. Mari DeMarco. IMPACT-AD is revealing why it is so important that Canadians have access to Alzheimer’s biomarker testing. The new test measures key biomarkers, i.e. amyloid-beta and tau proteins, involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Health Research BC supports Dr. DeMarco via a Scholar award, and provides match funding for the IMPACT-AD study. Match funding from Health Research BC enables BC researchers to compete both nationally and internationally, bringing research dollars to the province and growing their research programs. In this case, the investment is rippling outwards from BC, as IMPACT-AD’s network of physicians across Canada incorporate biomarker testing in the care of their patients.

Health Research BC Scholar awards support researchers who are building leading-edge health research programs, training the next generation of scientists and expanding their potential to make significant contributions to their field. The Scholar awards are for five years and with guaranteed long-term funding for personnel, project teams can come together for a longer period of time, as is the case in Dr. DeMarco’s laboratory. She was able to hire students for the entire length of the project. Health Research BC’s investment in talent has come full circle in this project; three IMPACT-AD co-investigators, Dr. John Best, Dr. Haakon Nygaard and Dr. Robin Hsiung have also been supported by Health Research BC awards. An ongoing investment into BC’s research leaders is paying major dividends as the team changes the landscape of Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis in Canada.

In addition to support from Health Research BC, IMPACT-AD is funded by Brain Canada in partnership with Health Canada, St. Paul’s Foundation, UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, and the Women’s Brain Health Initiative; and in collaboration with the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging and the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

For more information about the study and how you can get involved, visit www.impactAD.org.

IMPACT-AD co-investigators & connections with Health Research BC:

Dr. Mari DeMarco
2016 Scholar and 2017 Match Funding recipient

Dr. John Best
2013 Research Trainee

Dr. Haakon Nygaard
2016 Health Research BC / CLEAR Foundation (formerly Pacific Alzheimer Research Foundation) Scholar partnered awardee

Dr. Ging-Yuek (Robin) Hsiung
2002 Research Trainee and 2015 Match Funding recipient

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