The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recently announced its 2014 grant recipients, including $18 million for research to improve understanding, treatment and prevention of dementia.
Professor Perminder Sachdev, Co-Director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), was awarded $625,000 to better understand how amyloid plaques in the brain affect cognitive function. ‘Plaques’ on the brain are one of the hallmark indicators of Alzheimer’s disease, but it is still not fully understood how they grow or how they are linked to cognitive decline. Professor Sachdev and his team will conduct the world’s first study using PET scans of 100 sets of twins aged 65+ to study the relationship between plaques and cognitive function, and to shed light on how genes and environments contribute to the development of the plaques.
Modern imaging techniques, like PET scans, have revolutionised research into normal and pathological brain ageing. Many people develop plaques made of the protein amyloid as well as neurofibrillary tangles – both believed to be primary culprits for dementia. However, their presence does not mean cognitive decline is certain.
“People with Alzheimer’s disease will all have amyloid, but if brain scans are taken of people in their 70s and 80s you see it’s possible to have amyloid but not dementia,” explains Professor Sachdev.
This years’ NHMRC grants cover a range of innovative research projects. CEO Professor Warwick Anderson acknowledged the importance of these grants and their potential to make real progress in understanding dementia. He added that they will also complement other NHMRC-supported dementia research work already underway.
“These grants, coupled with the Australian Government’s recent $200 million boost for dementia research, represent a very significant commitment to dementia research. These efforts taken as a whole reflect the enormity of the challenge ahead,” Professor Anderson said.