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At the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, we currently support research in four areas of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • understanding the pathology of the disease
  • developing treatments
  • identifying factors to defer or prevent the onset of the disease
  • discovering an early diagnosis

Our current research utilises memory tests, medical and neuropsychological assessments; brain imaging; and highly specialised blood tests to help find an early diagnosis. We are also developing lifestyle interventions to delay or prevent the onset of symptoms, and are working to develop better treatments for those already diagnosed.

As part of our research into a diagnosis, we undertake the latest, highly specialised brain imaging, known as PET amyloid imaging. This allows detection of the accumulation of beta amyloid in the living brain.

While beta amyloid is a diagnostic marker, it is not sufficiently reliable on its own. We are therefore collaborating with researchers in Melbourne, the USA, Germany and other parts of the world to develop a suite of bio-markers and an accurate and reliable diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease.

Another major study relates to the preventative value of specific nutritional supplements for Alzheimer’s disease. This study will focus on the potential of antioxidants and poly phenols to defer the onset of the disease.

The major research projects currently supported by the Foundation include:

  • Blood-Based Protein and Lipid Biomarkers for Diagnosis of Alzheimer Disease
  • Programs investigating the role of genetics in Alzheimer’s disease
  • Developing agents that selectively target the enzyme responsible for beta amyloid generation
  • The role of diet in the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Identification and validation of peptide agents that neutralise beta amyloid toxicity
  • Molecular and neuropsychological predictive markers of cognitive decline
  • The role of testosterone in Alzheimer’s Disease

If you would like further information about any of these projects please contact us

WA Memory Study (WAMS)

Memory changes are common among the general adult population as we age. Dementia, which is primarily caused by Alzheimer’s disease, is not a normal part of ageing and currently there is no cure. Current medications only treat symptoms but do not halt progression of the disease.

It is vital to differentiate early changes that are consistent with dementia from those we see in normal ageing so we can identify those at risk or diagnosed with dementia as early as possible, start preventive measures or treatment when such interventions become available. However, early diagnosis is difficult as early symptoms associated with dementia are not well established. Doctors do not have a reliable means of establishing which individuals with early memory loss will develop dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

The WAMS commenced in 1996 and involves baseline measurements and follow-up assessments at 18-month intervals. Currently, 326 participants are enrolled as at June 2019 and over 500 assessments have been made including 18 month and 36 month assessments.

The aims of the WAMS are:

  1. To identify those factors that may influence memory changes
  2. To follow the longitudinal trajectory of cognitive change and see who will or will not develop dementia
  3. To identify amongst individuals with memory loss what characteristics are specifically associated with Alzheimer’s disease, to enable identification of individuals at a higher than average risk of developing dementia

The WAMS baseline measurements include:

  • Medical history
  • Tests of cognition (e.g., memory, language abilities, thinking skills and so on), mental and psychological health and quality of life
  • Blood tests
  • Body composition x-ray looking for association between body fat and Alzheimer’s disease-related proteins
  • Assessment of peripheral and central hearing, as hearing loss has been associated with decline in memory and other mental abilities and social activities
  • Olfactory “smell” examination to examine the link between the loss of smell and Alzheimer’s disease

In addition to the research procedures described above there are other optional sub-studies which includes the following:

  • Neuroimaging to identify the changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease
  • Donation of a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) sample
  • Clinical Assessment by a medical doctor specialised in identifying dementia using clinical methods
  • Eye imaging

WAMS Outcomes:

Over the next few years, the WAMS is aiming to develop 3 novel assessments of Alzheimer’s disease that have the potential to be used in clinical practice to identify those at higher risk of dementia.

These 3 novel measurements in development are:

  1. The McCusker Subjective Cognitive Impairment Inventory (McSCI): the primary aim of this test is to be used in research and clinical practice to screen those at risk of future dementia.
  2. Prospective Memory Test (WA-PROM): This measure will inform research on how forgetting future tasks and events (e.g., taking medication, future medical appointment, and etc.) may indicate higher risk of dementia.
  3. Olfactory Memory Test (WA-OMT): The WA Olfactory Memory Test assesses ability to remember odours correctly. Impaired olfactory ability is seen in different dementia-related conditions including Parkinson disease and Alzheimer’s. As memory impairment is a common sign of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, the WA-OMT is believed differentiate those who will progress to Alzheimer’s disease form other types of dementia.

Current PhD and Master Students:

WAMS provides important support for our future scientists in Alzheimer’s disease research. There are currently 4 PhD Candidates and Master Students working on the WAMS:

  • Rasingi Seneviratne (UWA): Olfactory Memory
  • Rachal Mumme (UWA): Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Pamela Lam (ECU): Depression and risk of dementia
  • Hadeel Tarawneh (UWA): Age-related hearing and dementia

If you would like to be involved in the WA Memory study, please contact Jo Shaw on j.shaw@ecu.edu.au

 Why Research is Essential

With an aging population a far larger proportion of our community will be affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia in the coming years. Ongoing and committed research will play a vital role in the continuing journey towards an Alzheimer’s free world for the benefit of our whole community.

Alzheimer’s disease is occurring at an increased pace. The Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation is dedicated to ensuring research continues on an international level. Millions will be condemned to a demeaning and frightening end to their lives if treatments are not discovered.

The reality is that despite currently being the second largest cause of death, research into Alzheimer’s disease in Australia is underfunded relative to the current and projected costs and the scope for huge savings from investment in research for cause, prevention and treatment. Urgent action is essential.

Identifying a means of early intervention is a priority as the effectiveness of any treatments will be limited by the current inability to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease until significant neurological damage has already been sustained.

As a result of past research we are now aware of a number of mechanisms implicated in the body developing abnormal levels of beta amyloid in the blood and its deposition on the brain.

Our knowledge of beta amyloid is increasing all the time. We now know that beta amyloid is a commonly occurring protein which has a beneficial role in normal bodily functioning. There are different forms of beta amyloid, some being beneficial, others destructive. We know that in some people there is an increased production of the destructive forms.

We also know that deposition of beta amyloid is widespread among the population, even for those who do not develop the condition. With some people, there is increased production of beta amyloid which in itself may contribute to increased deposition. The problem could also be due to a reduced ability of the body to remove the amyloid from the brain.