Early Diagnosis and Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Professor Ralph Martins
Macquarie University, Sydney and Edith Cowan University, Perth
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is reaching epidemic proportions world-wide and yet we still only have temporary treatments that reduce symptoms and do not target the disease itself. By the time a person shows memory and personality problems that indicate Alzheimer’s disease (AD), their brain is already severely damaged. Unfortunately, most clinical trials over the last 3 decades have been carried out on people who already have symptoms, which we now understand is too late in the disease process.
Thankfully, recent findings of long-term studies of cohorts of older people have led to Alzheimer’s researchers being more optimistic. In Australia, two large AD research laboratories have established the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) study of ageing: a study of over 10 years that has looked into the diet and lifestyle of over 1100 people aged 60-80 years. A better understanding of lifestyle factors will lead to effective prevention trials as dietary patterns, good sleep and exercise can all modify the risk of developing AD.
Previously, most clinical trials tested people who already had symptoms but the AIBL participants ranged from healthy adults to people with mild cognitive impairment to people with early stages of AD and used blood tests, brain imaging, memory and neuropsychological tests to gather a huge amount of data. We now know that close to 30% of normal older adults already have AD-specific brain damage, known as amyloid deposits. Amyloid brain scan tests (known as PiB-PET) are useful for research but extremely expensive and time-consuming so population-screening tests using biomarkers are now being developing for AD that could also be used to monitor potential treatments. Amyloid deposits and other AD-related brain pathology may take up to two decades to result in abnormal brain functions and symptoms. It is now clear that early-stage prevention of this advancing brain pathology is the best option to avoid developing symptoms.
This talk will discuss the AIBL study and the information learned from it, including drug prevention trials, the latest in foods and diets with respect to healthy ageing, and the importance of investigating non-drug approaches. Also covered will be the population-screening tests and the approaches taken to identify and validate these biomarkers and the recent major advance towards developing a blood test for AD.
Listen to Prof Martins' radio interview here.
PROFESSOR RALPH MARTINS PhD AO
Professor Ralph Martins is the Foundation Professor and Inaugural Chair in Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease at Edith Cowan University, Perth and a Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is well-known and highly respected internationally as a prominent researcher in Alzheimer’s Disease research. His insight into this devastating disease has led to a number of ground breaking discoveries including the pioneering discovery of Beta-amyloid and its precursor the amyloid precursor protein (APP), an important protein found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients now universally acknowledged as being fundamental to the pathology of this disease. His identification of oxidative stress in the Alzheimer brain has also been described as a significant landmark in the history of the disease. Professor Martins and his team have been at the forefront globally in developing non-invasive and cost-effective early diagnostics for pre-clinical AD. They are also progressing a highly innovative program of therapeutic strategies and preventative interventions in pre-clinical AD. He has published over 400 papers in high impact journals.
Professor Martins is also a Director of Research & Founder, Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation; Board Member of Co-Operative Research Centre for Mental Health; Board Member of the International Federation on Ageing which is an influential and prominent non-governmental organisation working closely with the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
Professor Martins has received many awards and accolades for his outstanding research, including Melvin Jones award from Lions Club International Foundation USA, the Western Australian of the Year in 2010, the Western Australian Citizen of the Year in 2011, the Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club in 2011, Member of the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem (KSJ) in 2013 and the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2013.