Dementia research at the University of Queensland ranges from understanding the basis of the disease, through to treatments and developing better care options.

Ultrasound treatment

Led by Professor Jürgen Götz, scientists at QBI’s Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research (CJCADR) are developing a non-invasive ultrasound technology to treat Alzheimer’s disease and restore memory. The approach temporarily opens the blood-brain barrier, activating mechanisms that clear toxic protein clumps, and restoring memory functions. Research has been conducted in mouse models and is being scaled up in higher animal models. This breakthrough research is bringing hope to the hundreds of thousands of Australians currently living with the illness.

The research undertaken by CJCADR investigates, at a biochemical, molecular, behavioural, electrophysiological and histological and systems level, how ageing dementia causes neurodegeneration as well as the decline of memory and also, motor functions. This is complemented by studies into physiological ageing. The Centre uses as experimental systems mainly tissue culture cells and genetically modified mice and worms.

Exercise

Exercise may be an effective way of decreasing the risk of cognitive decline. QBI Founding Director Professor Perry Bartlett successfully used exercise to improve cognition in older mice. He is now leading the clinical trial, along with Dr Mia Schaumberg, from the UQ School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, to find the amount, intensity, and type of exercise that might lead to cognitive improvement in elderly people. It’s thought that exercise boosts the production of new neurons in the brain, which might improve cognition. Ultimately, the aim is to have clear public health guidelines as to how exercise can both prevent and reverse dementia. qbi.uq.edu.au/exercise-study

Inflammation

Researchers such as Professor David Fairlie at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience's Centre for Inflammation and Disease Research are investigating how to stop inflammation and the diseases it can cause, including dementia. Dr Rodrigo Medeiros at QBI’s Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research is also trying to find biomarkers that signpost the initial inflammatory response in Alzheimer's disease. From this he hopes to identify promising compounds that could help stop chronic inflammation.

Immunotherapy

CJCADR is pursuing new strategies to reduce the burden of dementia. This includes the development of therapeutic antibodies. A major aim is the discovery of interventions to delay the onset, prevent and even cure dementia in patients, using novel drugs and better methods to deliver them to the brain. Another aim is the development of biomarkers to diagnose dementia earlier, more cheaply and with greater accuracy, and to monitor therapeutic interventions. Finally, lifestyle strategies will be formulated for maintaining a healthy brain.

Sleep apnoea

People who suffer from sleep apnoea are two to three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, says Professor Elizabeth Coulson, from the Queensland Brain Institute and the School of Biomedical Sciences at UQ.

“This could be because hypoxia – lower levels of oxygen in the blood from poor breathing – causes nerve cell death,” she says.

Prof Coulson’s team is beginning a study that will follow patients aged 55 to 75 with sleep apnoea over an extended period, to determine whether using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) ventilator, which keeps airways open during sleep, protects against brain degeneration and lowers the risk of dementia. qbi.uq.edu.au/sleepapnoeastudy

Enhancing Language Learning in Ageing with Exercise

This UQ study aims to understand how exercising affects learning, by training older people to learn new words immediately before or after they exercise. Understanding how exercise affects language learning may lead to new approaches for improving language re-learning in older people with brain conditions. exercise-ella.com

Ageing Mind Initiative

The Ageing Mind Initiative (AMI) is a UQ virtual clinical ageing research group coordinated by Professor Nancy Pachana from the School of Psychology, and Professor Gerard Byrne from Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine. AMI provides a focal point for clinical, translational ageing research in a mental health context. ami.group.uq.edu.au

CarFreeMe

CarFreeMe is an evidence-based method to help older people transition from driving. The program is for people with dementia or brain injury and stroke survivors. CarFreeMe works on the basic principles of empowerment, support and understanding. carfreeme.com.au

Early detection of dementia

UQ’s Centre for Health Services is developing an electronic system to improve early detection of dementia when people go to see their GPs. The research also aims to find ways to support GPs in helping patients to reduce their risk factors and change behaviours.