Hunter people to benefit from local research into dementia tests and treatments.

Jul 8 2021

Two exciting new research studies that will look to identify those most at risk of developing dementia and then attempt to delay or stop its development are underway in the Hunter New England region.

Dementia is a debilitating disease which progressively robs people of their faculties and has been resistant to treatment. All that may be about to change with the development of several new drugs which may slow the progression of the disease and its symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, has long been thought to involve the buildup in the brain of plaques. These plaques are made of a protein called beta-amyloid and a new type of antibody therapy which can remove these proteins has shown promise in other studies.

Researchers from the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) are teaming up with the Australian Dementia Network (ADNet) and international drug companies on two studies that aim to spot the early signs of dementia and test these new treatments in people before they develop the symptoms of dementia.

Leading the local team is Professor Michael Breakspear, group leader of the Systems Neuroscience research group at HMRI, professor of Psychology at the University of Newcastle and a clinical Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist. Professor Breakspear says these two trials support each other. The first trial will look for early signs of dementia and the second will test whether removing plaques before symptoms have developed can delay or stop the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“At the moment, we don’t have any predictive tests; we have to wait until people develop symptoms before they can get a diagnosis,” Professor Breakspear said.

“What we know from 20 years of research is that by that time there has already been a lot of underlying damage to the brain and we currently don’t have any treatments that can reverse that damage.”

The first study known as the Prospective Imaging Study of Ageing (PISA) will be looking to see if it is possible to identify people that are most at risk of developing dementia through cognitive assessments, genetic analysis and brain scans looking for early signs of plaque accumulation.

Once the team have identified a group of at-risk people, they will potentially have the opportunity to take part in the clinical trial which will test one of the plaque clearing antibody treatments to see if it will prevent them from developing dementia later in life. Participants identified will receive the treatment at the Calvary Mater Newcastle, who is a partner in the trial.

Just like it is now possible to test your risk for several diseases through take-home kits, Professor Breakspear says that he hopes this work could lead to a similar test for the risk of dementia.

“It would be great to be able to identify people in their late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s and say we think you are highly likely to develop dementia and here are some treatments we can offer to delay, prevent or even reverse what otherwise is likely to happen in 10–15 years,” Professor Breakspear said.

If people are interested in taking part in dementia research, they can visit.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.