Research into dementia has been given a major funding boost with the Federal Government awarding $40 million to a range of research projects to improve the lives of people living with dementia.
Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia today and is recognised as a global public health priority by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2017, there are estimated to be 413,106 Australians living with dementia and by 2025 this number is expected to increase to 536,000.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt last night announced the funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) funding policy for dementia.
Two of the successful research projects led by The University of Western Australia will focus on preventing, diagnosing, treating and managing dementia, including its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease. People with dementia and their carers helped set the priorities for the research projects and contributed to the expert review to choose the best grants.
Associate Professor Christopher Etherton-Beer from UWA’s School of Medicine and his team were awarded $586,000 while Dr Nicole Smith, from UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences, was awarded $720,144.
Professor Etherton-Beer said dementia frequently coexisted with other chronic conditions, posing a challenge to optimise medication use.
“Poor medication management of additional diseases exacerbates the rate of decline of people with dementia,” he said. “There is little guidance for people living with dementia to help manage medications that treat chronic conditions.”
To address this gap, UWA PhD student Amy Page, supervised by Professor Etherton-Beer and Professor Rhonda Clifford, Head of the School of Allied Health, developed the Medication Appropriateness Tool for Comorbid Health conditions in Dementia (MATCH-D).
Professor Etherton-Beer’s study will use MATCH-D to determine to what extent improved medication management produces better health and functional outcomes for people living with dementia.
“It’s critical that we target better use of medicines to empower people with dementia and their carers to make informed choices about their medical therapies.”
Dr Nicole Smith from UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences will use her grant to study four-stranded DNA as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve loss in the brain’s frontal lobes.
“There’s currently no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s nor FTD so there is an urgent need to identify new drug targets and develop new treatments to reduce the disease burden and mortality,” Dr Smith said.
Dr Smith and her team will study the occurrence of 4-stranded DNA structures, called G4-DNA, in Alzheimer’s and FTD.
“G4-DNA is most often found in our genes – part of our DNA which directs how cells function, and their formation can control whether a gene is turned on or off, hence acting like a ‘switch’,” she said.
“Certain G4-DNA switches are altered in neurodegenerative diseases, resulting in our genes being abnormally turned on or off.”
Dr Smith and her team will identify altered G4-DNA switches that contribute to the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s and FTD. They will develop treatments that precisely target and ‘undo’ these G4-DNA alterations in order to correct abnormal expression of disease-causing genes.
The NHMRC funding will bring researchers from universities and institutes together with health workers and clinicians to produce better outcomes for dementia care.
David Stacey (UWA Media and PR Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716