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Dementia and Movement Disorders Lab

Understanding the origin of neurodegeneration

The Dementia and Movement Disorder studies the origin and development of neurodegenerative dementias and movement disorders.

We focus on how neurodegeneration manifests when symptoms first appear and how this relates to:

  • pre-disposing factors such as genetic makeup
  • the degree of neuronal degeneration and tissue loss over time
  • physical changes in remaining brain cells and tissues
  • molecular changes in brain tissue over time
  • the onset of different clinical features
  • blood markers of the different pathologies.

We also study the impact of key molecules identified through this research in a number of relevant models of disease.

Currently, our dementia research is focused on assessing biomarkers, genes and pathological progression. In particular, the laboratory is known for its work on dementia with Lewy bodies (abnormal protein aggregates that develop inside nerve cells). Aspects of our studies have been incorporated into current research criteria for the diagnosis of this disorder. In particular, we were the first laboratory to highlight the association between Lewy body deposition and visual hallucinations, rather than a loss of function.

We are now focused on the multiple pathologies associated with this dementia syndrome and how genetic factors influence these pathologies.

Watch a short interview about current Lewy Body Dementia research here.

 

We have developed a disease severity staging scheme to assist with further research in the non-Alzheimer frontotemporal dementias. We have also helped determine genetic factors that predict and/or modify pathology.

Our current research is focused on how proteins identified through these genetic studies are involved in neurodegenerative processes. Furthermore, we are looking at whether we can detect evidence of these, or other surrogate biomarkers, for the different underlying pathologies in the blood of patients with frontotemporal dementia.

We are also focused on assessing genetic and biological factors influencing the progression of movement disorders. This includes studies of lipid metabolism, lysosome dysfunction, mitochondrial functioning, kinase activity and immune system involvement.

Our initial studies, led by Professor Glenda Halliday, assessed the anatomy and pathology of dopaminergic systems (the neurons in the brain that synthesise and release dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres) and other brainstem monoaminergic systems in controls and patients with Parkinson's disease.

We then found broader pathological involvement in the brains of patients with long-term Parkinson's disease. Subsequent research has focused on understanding how this occurs.

Our current studies are also concentrating on the peripheral immune system and measurements that may provide utility in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or to monitor responses to new classes of drugs for Parkinson’s disease.

We are proud to be part of the MJ Fox Foundation Biology Consortias (LRRK2, GBA, Rab), an international network of investigators focused on understanding the biology and pathological role of different molecules in Parkinson’s disease.

Dementia research in Australia

Professor Glenda Halliday talks about the state of dementia research in Australia.