Caroline Bull

Psychological and nutritional determinants of telomere and genome integrity in dementia carers

Caroline Bull
2015 Hazel Hawke Research Grant in Dementia Care
Project Snapshot

Telomeres are regions of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from damage, and play a critical role in keeping our DNA healthy. Damaged and unstable chromosomes are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced immune function, neurodegeneration, and cancers. People who experience high levels of psychological stress, such as carers, have shorter telomeres than lower-stress individuals.

This study will investigate telomere length and DNA damage of family dementia carers, together with a panel of psychological, physiological, diet and lifestyle measures. This novel, comprehensive approach will allow us to determine which specific diet and lifestyle factors help protect the genome against stress-related damage in carers.

Findings from this study will help to define practical, effective measures to empower carers to protect their DNA health, reduce risk for chronic disease and improve their overall health and wellbeing.

Detailed Project Summary

Demands on carers frequently impact their own health, increasing their risk of disease. This study will deliver new knowledge on the interactive impact of chronic psychological stress, nutrition and lifestyle on health and disease risk of family dementia carers.

Shortened telomeres (protective ‘caps’ at chromosome ends), DNA damage and chromosomal instability are key initiators of cancers and degenerative diseases, and chronic stress is strongly associated with compromised immunity and disease risk. 

In this study we will compare molecular biomarkers (telomere length, chromosomal instability, DNA damage and epigenetic markers) with psychological, physiological, and cognitive data between family dementia carers, and matched controls. 

Implications of this research :

  • Identification of molecular biomarkers associated with exposure to chronic stress will provide new knowledge and evidence upon which positive health strategies for carers can be defined.

  • Defining micronutrient concentrations which prevent or reduce stress-induced chromosomal damage will provide a basis for clear dietary recommendations to enhance the long term health and wellbeing of carers.

  • Defining practical, cost-effective measures to empower carers to protect their own genome health through lifestyle means, and in doing so, extend their ‘health-span’, reduce their risk for serious chronic diseases, and enhance their wellbeing.

Where are they now?

Dr Bull is based at CSIRO in Adelaide, as a Research Scientist in the Genome Health and Personalised Nutrition Laboratory.