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World Alzheimer’s Day 2020: Detection at the earliest stages with CogniScent

The world lights up purple on World Alzheimer’s day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and we discuss the importance of early detection with Micol De Ruvo, Co-Founder and CTO at CogniScent.

World Alzheimer’s Day is observed on 21 September every year to raise the awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and the demystify the stigma around it. Over 50 million people live with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias in the world today. If breakthroughs are not discovered, rates could exceed 152 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s disease has no cure and no treatment to stop its progression, but early and accurate detection and diagnosis are crucial. On the importance of early detection, we discuss with Micol De Ruvo, Co-Founder and CTO at CogniScent, a Berlin-based start-up and a Headstart winner working on a novel, non invasive, software-based test for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most significant global health and social care crises in the 21st century. What is the connection between CogniScent and Alzheimer’s disease?

Misdiagnosis and late diagnosis rates can reach up to 50% in neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. This is also due to symptoms being overlooked in the early stage of the diseases. Early symptoms are often unspecific and can change from person to person, making a timely diagnosis challenging. By combining latest research advancements and data-driven technology, we aim at offering people a clear picture of their early symptoms, thus supporting a timely diagnosis and most importantly a higher quality of life.

  • Studies show that early diagnosis and preventative therapies can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. Was this the primary reason why CogniScent focused on Alzheimer’s disease?

We decided to focus on Alzheimer’s disease, as well as Parkinson’s disease, as both these diseases are highly prevalent and burdensome chronic diseases.  Despite the absence of a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are currently promising candidates for disease modifying drugs, which would be most effective during the the early stage of the disease. Through our solution, we can support a timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, which will become necessary to start treatments before symptoms become severe.

  • Much of the effort around this disease has been focused on prevention– however, as population ages, there must be a shift to improve the quality of care for these patients. For example, CogniScent can also be used for effective symptom management. Can you tell us more about this feature?

Of course. Quality of care and quality of life certainly play an important role in neurodegenerative diseases. The absence of a cure makes it challenging to quantify how treatments improve the quality of life of the people affected. We are currently working with researchers on implementing self-mananagement interventions, where patients and caregivers can act on the symptoms through personalised strategies. This empowers patients and enables physicians to closely monitor their progress.

  • The global crisis around Alzheimer’s continues to grow and the World Health Organization estimates that the total number of people with dementia is projected to reach 75.6 million in 2030 and almost triple by 2050 to 135.5 million. How can CogniScent play its part here?

Correct. Sadly, we are not able change these numbers, but we do aim at changing the quality of life of the people affected and their families. Our solution is person-centred, science-backed and it can be used in the privacy of people’s home. Of course, one of our challenges relies on spreading awareness on the benefits of effective symptom detection and management.

  • Living with dementia at any time brings everyday challenges for the person and those around them and the coronavirus is now making daily life much harder. As many activities that bolstered dementia patients have been canceled due to physical-distancing requirements, digital technology has stepped in. Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate telemedicine and digital technology use for chronic neurological diseases management?

COVID-19 has brought an abrupt transformation of the traditional model of care, with telemedicine becoming widespread across chronic diseases, including neurological diseases. Some examples of effective telehealth solutions for neurological diseases include online assessments, monitoring programmes and educational programmes. Telemedicine can be especially effective in the early stage of the diseases and it has been shown to relieve pressure from caregivers. Although physical check-ups are crucial for neurodegenerative diseases, I am quite confident that telemedicine will be complementary even when social distancing will not be needed anymore.

  • September 21st every year is World Alzheimer’s Day around the world. What is your key message for this day?

Despite the research advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, single individuals still suffer from a lack of awareness, knowledge and understanding of the disease. This prevents people and the healthcare system from intervening timely and effectively, even in the absence of pharmacological treatments. We need safe places where awareness and understanding are accessible to everyone. This is a first, but crucial step towards a better to quality of life.