The University of Sydney
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The Leslie Rich Scholarship for Dementia Research 2016 Awardee

Isabella Leung

Ms Isabella Leung is the 2016 recipient of the The Leslie Rich Scholarship for Dementia Research. She is a doctoral candidate, in the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney. Her doctoral project is entitled, Detecting Hippocampal Subfield Response to Computerised Cognitive Training in Older People with Documented Cognitive Decline. Her supervisor is Dr Amit Lampit.

Ms Leung holds a Master’s degree in Brain and Mind Sciences (USyd) as well as a Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine (UTS). Since 2014 she has worked as a research assistant at the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre Radiation Oncology Unit, Royal North Shore Hospital, and trained in clinical neuroscience and biomedical statistics at the Regenerative Neuroscience Group, University of Sydney. Currently, she is working as a clinician at the Brain Injury Units, at Westmead and Royal Rehab Hospital, providing acupuncture treatment to inpatients with traumatic brain injury and stroke. In addition, she works as a Postgraduate Research Associate with the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the University of Sydney on a trial of computerised cognitive training in memory clinic patients with documented cognitive decline.

Her goal is to continue her research in the field of neurological rehabilitation towards a PhD, focusing on non-pharmacological interventions to prevent ageing-related cognitive decline and dementia.

Describing her project she has said, “Shrinkage of the hippocampus (HC) area of the brain is common in normal ageing, but rapid volume loss is one of the key pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias. By the time of diagnosis, people with AD would have already suffered substantial hippocampal damage, and their rate of total HC volume loss may triple that of normally ageing adults. However, it has been found that hippocampal damage in AD appears to be more pronounced in certain areas of the HC. Therefore, interventions that effectively stop or even reverse volume loss in specific regions of the HC could protect against total volume loss and delay the cognitive decline.
Computerised cognitive training (CCT), defined as structured and adaptive practice on cognitively challenging tasks, is one of the few interventions with a strong evidence base for effectiveness in older adults. In a series of clinical trials and meta-analyses, our group has demonstrated that CCT is a safe and effective intervention for enhancing cognition in healthy older adults, Parkinson’s disease and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). However, the neurobiological underpinnings for these effects remain unclear, and the profiles of people who respond to CCT compared to non-responders has yet to be characterised.

My project will investigate the effectiveness of CCT on delaying cognitive decline and protecting the hippocampus in people at ultra-risk for dementia.”

Isabella plans to use the scholarship to help meet costs associated with carrying out her research, as well as to attend a specialist training course at the University of California, Irvine.