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$940,000 to unlock Alzheimer’s


Associate Professor Simon Laws.

People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may soon have access to personalised treatment advice, tailored to their genetic profile, to help slow the progression of the debilitating condition.

A team led by Edith Cowan University's Associate Professor Simon Laws received $940,000 from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to examine the interplay of genetic and lifestyle factors impacting the rate of memory decline among Alzheimer’s sufferers.

Different rates of decline

Associate Professor Laws, from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences, said that genetics has been well established as a key contributor to Alzheimer’s disease risk, but 20 years ago few thought lifestyle factors had much to do with the condition.

“We now have very good evidence that both genetic and lifestyle factors play a role in moderating Alzheimer’s risk. What we are hoping to find out with this study is how these factors interact with each other.

“It is this interaction that determines the rate at which people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease suffer cognitive decline and changes in the brain.”

Ultimately this new understanding could lead to the development of personalised advice for early-stage sufferers about which lifestyle changes would provide them with the most benefit and help delay the onset of symptoms.

“So, for example, person A’s genetic profile may mean that they should focus on modifying their diet, whereas for person B, focusing on exercise or sleep would give them better results,” Associate Professor Laws said.

Diet, sleep and depression

The comprehensive study will build on previous ECU research that has identified diet, sleep and depression as important lifestyle factors that influence the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and particularly how their interaction with genetics is key.

Associate Professor Laws said the project would draw on the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of Aging cohort. The study is the largest of its kind in Australia, involving more than 1000 participants with a minimum age of 60 years old.

Associate Professor Laws will work with colleagues from the University of Melbourne, Macquarie University, University College London and CSIRO Health and Biosecurity.

In 2017 ECU’s Centre for Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Care received $716,000 from the NHMRC to develop a blood test capable of detecting Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages.

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