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Nicholas Ashton with diploma and flowers next to HM Queen Silvia in the castle hall
Photo: Yanan Li
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Nicholas Ashton receives Alzheimer Prize from Her Majesty the Queen Silvia

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On Friday, September 17, Nicholas Ashton was honored at Drottningholm Palace as one of this year’s two recipients of Queen Silvia’s Prize to a Young Alzheimer Researcher, which the Queen presented herself. Ashton is part of the large and successful research department that works with biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease at the University of Gothenburg.

“It is a huge honor to receive such a prestigious award and that the ceremony took place in the presence of Queen Silvia herself at Drottningholm Palace. This prize goes not only to me but also to the large team of researchers and students who have helped in the development of blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease,” says Nicholas Ashton.

The prize was established by the Swedish Alzheimer’s Foundation on the occasion of Queen Silvia’s 70th birthday. It bears the Queen’s name, and she considers it a great honor to present the prize each year. The prize has also had a major impact within the community of young researchers. In addition to the honor, the prize includes SEK 125,000.

Simple biological tests

Nicholas Ashton has been conducting research at the University of Gothenburg since 2018. He pursued undergraduate studies in forensic chemistry in Great Britain, and he became interested in dementia research during his master’s studies of clinical neuroscience at King’s College London. In 2017 he defended his dissertation in geriatric psychiatry, focusing on blood tests for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Today my role is to develop and validate simple biological tests for different stages of dementia for traumatic and acute neurological damage. My current focus is to prepare these tests for routine use in memory clinics.”

Distinguishing Alzheimer’s from other diseases

The neurochemistry research team that includes Nicholas Ashton is now very close to having this type of Alzheimer’s test for wide availability. Under the leadership of Professors Kaj Blennow and Henrik Zetterberg, the team has made great progress, first with the Neurofilament Light (NfL) marker and, more recently, with phosphorylated tau (p-tau). The blood tests open up new and very important avenues, which the more invasive and costly tests using spinal fluid samples or molecular image processing are unable to offer, explains Ashton.

“We can be more inclusive in our studies and represent more population groups in our surveys. In addition, we can investigate Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage so that preventive measures can be explored even before symptoms appear.”

Dementia symptoms can have many different causes, and it is important to know if they result from Alzheimer’s disease or something else entirely.

“Knowing what causes the symptoms is very important in enabling both patients and healthcare providers to have a more definitive diagnosis. In pharmaceutical research, it is also necessary to include the right patients in trials for cures or interventions for Alzheimer’s disease. In the future these tests will be at the forefront in determining whether someone will benefit from receiving disease-modifying medications when they become available.”

Two prize recipients

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Awardees Nicholas Ashton and Rik
Awardees Nicholas Ashton and Rik Ossenkoppele.
Photo: Yanan Li

Rik Ossenkoppele, who researches advanced brain imaging methods at Lund University and the University of Amsterdam, also received Queen Silvia’s Prize for a Young Alzheimer Researcher.

“These two researchers have conducted groundbreaking studies on how brain changes resulting from Alzheimer’s disease can be detected in living individuals. Their research results have revolutionized the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and will be crucial for the development of effective medications,” says Henrik Zetterberg, who also chairs the Scientific Council of the Swedish Alzheimer’s Foundation.

“These two deserving young researchers have been selected by the Scientific Council of the Alzheimer’s Foundation for the important advances they have made in diagnostics and survey methods,” says Liselotte Jansson, Secretary General of the Alzheimer’s Foundation.

Charlotta Thunborg, a researcher in physiotherapy at Karolinska Institutet, also received the Alzheimer Life scholarship of SEK 100,000 for her research to help patients with early Alzheimer’s disease remain healthy for as long as possible through lifestyle changes.

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All three awardees and Her Majesty the Queen Silvia.
All three awardees and Her Majesty the Queen Silvia.
Photo: Yanan Li