It is predicted that by 2040, Alzheimer’s disease could affect over 500,000 Australians. Currently there is no known cure for the disease. Researchers at the Brain and Mind Centre are focussed on several areas of Alzheimer’s research.
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Understanding the cause of Alzheimer’s disease
BACE1 & amyloid-β plaques
Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by the deposition of amyloid-β plaques that result in the death of surrounding brain cells. Dr Damian Holsinger, leader of the Molecular Neuroscience Program studies a protein called BACE1, which initiates the formation of amyloid-β plaques. Preventing plaque formation may provide an effective treatment or even prevention for Alzheimer’s disease.
During ageing the cells’ energy factories, called mitochondria, produce less energy than usual. It has been found that in this environment a protein called cofilin may be forming inclusions in the brain. These inclusions are thought to cause the kind of neuronal dysfunction seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Claire Goldsbury and her Alzheimer’s Disease Cell Biology team are working to identify the causes of the generation of cofilin inclusions in the brain. This knowledge will shed new light on how Alzheimer’s disease occurs.
Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms
A large body of research has shown that there are some modifiable risk factors for adult-onset cognitive decline such as seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers in the Healthy Brain Ageing Program, led by Associate Professor Sharon Naismith investigate and provide early intervention for Alzheimer’s disease by targeting risk factors including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, diet, brain inactivity and sleep disturbance. The approach will determine whether early intervention programs can delay the onset of cognitive decline and the underlying brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Neuroplasticity and degeneration
Researchers led by Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela in the Regenerative Neuroscience Group investigate the competing forces of neuroplasticity and degeneration in the human brain and how these may be harnessed to help prevent cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease as well as develop innovative new treatments. Current projects include work with adult stem cells, animal models, brain tissue, human clinical trials and large multinational population-based samples.
The translocator protein (TSPO) is a molecule that is present in higher quantities in the brain when there is illness or trauma, including in Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Michael Kassiou and his team in the Drug Discovery Program have identified TSPO as an important molecule for future targeted treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Investigations by the researchers have identified several molecules that bind to TSPO (called TSPO ligands) and prevent the symptoms of disease in animal models. Ongoing work involves the identification and synthesis of further new TSPO ligands; investigation of their structure–activity profile; and evaluation of the functional activity of all newly synthesised TSPO ligands and their utility as drug candidates for the prevention of CNS diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
This study aims to evaluate whether changes in sleep-wake functions are associated with mood and cognitive decline in older people with depression and/or cognitive impairment. Find out more...