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A collaborative network of 17 Australian research organisations is rolling out research and clinical initiatives as the global dementia community tackles one of the leading causes of death in Australia.
- Over 400,000 Australians are living with dementia, and nearly as many are involved in their care
- Dementia is the second leading cause of death, and there is currently no cure
- The Australian Dementia Network is supporting research, recruiting people to participate in clinical trials, and ensuring dementia patients will be able to access new medical technologies as they emerge
- The network is led by the University of Melbourne and supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Wicking Trust, the Yulgilbar Foundation, Dementia Australia and the Commonwealth Department of Health.
The Australian Dementia Network (ADNeT) is a partnership of leading dementia researchers that draws on the expertise in 17 Australian universities and research institutions, as well as people with lived experience of dementia. The network is led by the University of Melbourne.
ADNeT creates a powerful translational research infrastructure for dementia prevention, treatment, and care. ADNeT has three key initiatives:
- The Clinical Quality Registry is Australia’s first to measure the quality of diagnosis and care for people newly diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment. The initiative will drive improvements in the clinical quality of care of people living with dementia.
- Development of best practice guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of dementia in Memory Clinics helps ensure all people living with dementia have access to quality diagnosis and care, wherever they live.
- Detailed screening of patients suitable for participation in clinical trials (Screening and Trials) facilitates the development of effective therapies.
ADNeT provides tools for people with dementia, researchers and clinicians alike. The network’s website consolidates valuable educational resources for people newly diagnosed with dementia and carers, as well as researchers and clinicians. The Australian Dementia Network Neuropsychology Norming Tool streamlines cognitive assessment, diagnosis and care by combining information from a range of neuropsychological tests for the use of clinical neuropsychologists.
“Globally, important outcomes have recently been achieved in dementia research. But further research is crucial to demonstrate clinical usefulness,” says ADNeT Director, Professor Christopher Rowe.
With the dementia research community on the cusp of breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment, the coordinated ADNeT clinical and research community means Australia is ready to be at the forefront of trialling and embedding these new dementia treatments into practice.
Over 400,000 Australians are living with dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most prevalent form of illness. Dementia is the second leading cause of death.
Dementia affects memory, cognitive and physical functioning, and personality. While no two people experience dementia the same way, it regularly interferes with people’s normal lives.
“An early diagnosis is important, as drugs can manage and sometimes defer the onset of symptoms. However, there is currently no cure,” says Professor Rowe.
A network that connects people with dementia, clinicians and researchers can help improve the lives of Australians with dementia and lead to breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatments and care for the condition.
“ADNeT helps Australian researchers find participants to trial their therapeutic discoveries and for longitudinal observational research to learn more about the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” Professor Rowe says.
Slow build-up of two toxic proteins called amyloid and tau are believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Previous studies have shown amyloid in all participants with Alzheimer’s disease. But they have also observed that amyloid begins to deposit in the brain 15 to 20 years before symptoms such as memory decline develop. Amyloid may speed up the formation of the toxic tau protein.
“The earlier that drugs designed to slow the build-up of amyloid or to clear it from the brain are given, the greater the chance of preventing this major cause of dementia,” Professor Rowe says.
ADNeT developed and implemented a national network using common operating and analysis procedures to enhance research. The network provides new technology such as novel brain scans and blood tests that identify people suitable for early treatment trials aimed to slow the disease and prevent dementia.
ADNeT is pioneering a study on implementing blood-based biomarkers into memory clinics. The study follows recent global breakthroughs in blood tests that detect tau protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, and a protein known as neurofilament light chain which is associated with brain damage in several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
The test will improve diagnostic accuracy, allowing treatments to be started sooner. Importantly, such blood tests would be less invasive, more accessible, and more affordable with the ability to be implemented widely in clinical practice.
ADNeT will closely monitor the uptake, risks and benefits of the new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease using the ADNeT Clinical Quality Registry. This data will be used to reduce the risk and improve the benefits of these treatments. This compliments the ADNeT aim for earlier and more accurate diagnosis for Alzheimer's disease using the new blood tests and scans, as earlier treatment increases the treatment benefit.
ADNeT is also implementing early post diagnosis cognitive therapies, virtual clinics for areas of Australia that do not have access to dementia specialists, and lifestyle change to slow progression of dementia.
The Australian Dementia Network is fully funded by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and supported by the Wicking Trust, the Yulgilbar Foundation, Dementia Australia and more recently by the Commonwealth Department of Health.
The University of Melbourne is one of 17 partners that make up the Australian Dementia Network.
Professor Christopher Rowe, ADNeT Director, Florey Department of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne
Professor Colin Masters, Professor in Dementia Research, Florey Department of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne
Banner picture: Getty Images. Illustration of amyloid plaques amongst neurons. Amyloid plaques are characteristic features of Alzheimer's disease. They lead to degeneration of the affected neurons, which are destroyed through the activity of microglia cells.
First published on 25 July 2023.
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