A collaborative network preparing for the next big thing in dementia treatment

4 minute read

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.

A collaborative network of 17 Australian research organisations is working to prepare for the rollout of anticipated research and clinical initiatives as the global dementia community is poised for a step change to tackle one of the leading causes of death in Australia.

Key points

  • Through targeted initiatives supported by the Yulgilbar Foundation, 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.
  • Nearly 500,000 Australians are living with dementia, and nearly three times that many are involved in their care
  • Dementia is the second leading cause of death, with Alzheimer’s Disease being the most prevalent form of the illness
  • Dementia affects memory, cognitive and physical functioning, and personality
  • Currently drugs to manage and sometimes defer onset of symptoms exist but there is no cure
  • With recent new outcomes, the global dementia research community is poised for a significant improvement in diagnosis and treatment.

The outcome

The Australian Dementia Network (ADNeT) is a unique dementia community that draws the expertise of researchers in 17 Australian universities and research institutions, as well as people with lived experience of dementia.

ADNeT brings together Australia’s leading dementia stakeholders to create a powerful translational research infrastructure for dementia prevention, treatment, and care. ADNeT has three key initiatives – Clinical Quality Registry, Memory Clinics, and Screening and Trials.

  • The Clinical Quality Registry was established in Australia to measure the quality of diagnosis and care for people newly diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment. It is expected 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 diagnostic and care, wherever they live.
  • Detailed screening of patients suitable for participation in clinical trials (Screening and Trials) facilitates the development of effective therapies.
  • Globally, important outcomes have recently been achieved in dementia research. Further research is crucial to demonstrate clinical usefulness. 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.

The research

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.

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 have also observed that amyloid begins to deposit in the brain 15 to 20 years before other symptoms develop. Amyloid may speed up the formation of the other toxic protein, called tau.

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.

ADNeT developed and implemented a national network using common operating and analysis procedures to enhance research and provide 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 management impact study on implementing blood-based biomarkers into memory clinics, following recent global breakthroughs in blood tests that detect tau protein implicated in Alzheimer’s disease (pTau181), 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.

The partnership

The Australian Dementia Network is fully funded by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and two generous grants from the Wicking Trust and the Yulgilbar Foundation.

The University of Melbourne is one of 17 partners that make up the Australian Dementia Network.

Publication

See a comprehensive list of ADNeT research publications

People

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

Professor Nicola Lautenschlager, Professor of Psychiatry of Old Age and Director of the Academic Unit for Psychiatry of Old Age, Department of Psychiatry at the 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.

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