Professor Wiesje van der Flier holds the Pasman chair, is scientific director of Alzheimer Center Amsterdam, Amsterdam UMC and project leader of the national consortium ABOARD. Her dream is to stop Alzheimer's disease before it starts.
Innovative solutions to detect Alzheimer's
To date, there are an estimated 300,000 people with dementia in the Netherlands. Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia and among the most expensive, deadly and burdensome diseases. Based on scientific evidence, we know that Alzheimer's starts already 20 years before clinical manifestation of the disease. This provides a window for early, preventive intervention, before irreparable damage has occurred. Wiesje van der Flier developed a model to calculate the individual risk of dementia using Alzheimer's tests. An innovative aspect of Van der Flier's approach is to approach the usability of diagnostic tests not only from a medical perspective, but also from the perspective of patients and their families.
From diagnosis to decision-making
To improve diagnostics at memory clinics, Van der Flier investigated how the tests can best be applied, peeked into the doctor's office and developed an app to explain test results at the individual level. Subsequently, she showed that the prediction model can be applied in countries all over the world. The computational model and the underlying study have been published in the leading scientific journal The Lancet Neurology. To investigate how information provision, decision-making and communication about Alzheimer's diagnosis works in practice, Van der Flier's team made audio recordings of conversations about diagnosis between doctors, patients and their families. The analysis shows that too little is discussed beforehand about the expectations and wishes of patients and their families, and little about the meaning of the results and possible follow-up steps afterwards. As a result, they are often left with too many unanswered questions. ABOARD, the national consortium that kicked off April 2021 address many of these unanswered questions by improving diagnostic markers, developing personalized risk scores and by focusing on prevention through increased awareness of dementia and brain health.
The Huibregtsen prize is a prestigious one and is awarded only to research that combines scientific excellence and innovation. Moreover, the research project must have exceptional societal value and outreach, above and beyond what might be expected of a researcher in this position. The jury praised Van der Flier for her urgent and relevant research with wonderful collaborations, innovative methodologies and an unusual approach in the field and the added value for all target groups.
The other 2021 nominees are:
- Prof. dr. Sandjai Bhulai & prof. dr. Rob van der Mei - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
- Prof. dr. Anne-Laura van Harmelen - University of Leiden
- Prof. dr. Merel Kindt - University of Amsterdam
- Prof. dr. Wouter de Laat & dr. Marvin Tanenbaum - Hubrecht Institute Prof. dr. Antonis Vakis & prof. dr. Bayu Jayawardhana - University of Groningen