New dementia research institute to seek stakeholder input

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21 August 2015

Aged care providers and professionals will have a unique opportunity to influence dementia research and how it is translated into practice with the establishment of a new virtual online network.

by Darragh O'Keeffe and Jackie Keast, Australian Ageing Agenda

The Membership Network is being developed by Alzheimer’s Australia as a key part of its strategy to create partnerships with sector stakeholders and gather their input to inform a strategic roadmap for dementia research and translation priorities.

The peak body was recently awarded the contract to run the National Health and Medical Research Council’s $50 million National Institute for Dementia Research.

Carol Bennett Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett told Australian Ageing Agenda that one of the main aims of the institute was to create partnerships with industry organisations, and the online Membership Network would be established to ensure all interested stakeholders’ input was being taken on board.

“We believe research into dementia is our greatest weapon in the fight to prevent the progression and ultimately cure dementia. By the very creation of this institute we are driving funding to where it is needed in the crucial areas of research,” she said.

Ms Bennett said the aim was to get some of Australia’s best minds producing “evidence-based research that can be translated into practical results, which will improve the lives and care of people living with dementia, slow the progression of dementia and ultimately cure it all together.”

“... research into dementia is our greatest weapon in the fight to prevent the progression and ultimately cure dementia ..."

The announcement of the institute came within a broader package of $35.6 million in funding awarded to six Dementia Research Team Grants earlier this month.

Among the funding recipients was the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at UNSW, which received $6.46 million to run what will be the largest dementia trial in the world, recruiting 18,000 people aged 58-68 to look at the use of online tools to help reduce dementia risk factors.

Lead investigator and co-director of CHeBA Professor Henry Brodaty said there was poor community understanding regarding dementia risks such as a lack of physical activity, smoking and obesity, and increased efforts to address these factors could prevent dementia in millions of people.

“The people in our trial will be young enough still to be able to prevent the accumulation of more pathology in their brain, and old enough that we can study the outcomes to benefit future generations,” Professor Brodaty said. “The real attraction of this program, if it works, is that it could be delivered internationally via the internet.”

Another UNSW researcher based at the Neuroscience Research Australia, Professor Glenda Halliday, received $6.45 million for her study to improve the diagnostic detection of non-Alzheimer’s forms of dementia, which are under recognised and often misdiagnosed.

Studies to investigate the biological determinants of dementia were also major recipients of funding. A study headed by the University of Melbourne looking at how impaired blood vessels can cause dementia was awarded $6.42 million and a Macquarie University research team were awarded $6.37 million for research into the biological origins of familial and sporadic frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease.

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute was also among the recipients, awarded $6.46 million to lead a collaborative investigation into the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

“While the burden of dementia in Australia occurs late in life, the underlying brain disease accumulates decades prior to dementia onset. We will develop ways to identify those people at the very early stage of dementia, before their symptoms become evident,” said chief investigator Professor Michael Breakspear. “If we can start treatment at the earliest possible time we have the best chance to reduce the eventual impact of the disease.”

A multidisciplinary program to improve the health quality of life for people and their carers, run by the University of Newcastle was awarded $3.38 million.

This story was published in the Australian Ageing Agenda on 21 August 2015.