Dr Rachel Wong

Research Program:
Project Grant
2017 Project Grant
Project Grant
2017 Project Grant
Project Grant
2014 Project Grant

What are your research interests?

  • Lifestyle modification to attenuate premature cognitive decline 
  • Potential for bioactive nutrients to restore compromised circulation and mental function. 

Why did you get into research?

I have always been a firm believer that we need to take care of our bodies while we are young by eating right and exercising regularly so that we don’t suffer consequences of ill health later in life. However, despite doing everything right (and making certain sacrifices along the way), we are not immune to the effects of ageing such as slowing of physical and mental ability. I want to maintain a good quality of life in my golden years. I am sure many others do too. 

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

To provide sound evidence that bioactive nutrients present in our everyday foods have the capacity to help us maintain a healthy circulation, which will in turn keep us mentally sharp and happy; and that this primary prevention strategy is affordable and achievable by all. 

Future Focus

Australians are faced with increasing costs for medical treatments; hence we need more cost-effective strategies for disease prevention in at risk groups. I want my research to offer a non-pharmacological approach to counteract poor cerebral perfusion and cognitive decline in postmenopausal women and to assist them towards healthy ageing. 

Biography

Dr Rachel Wong graduated as the most outstanding undergraduate for the degree of Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Human Movement and Health Studies in 2008. She subsequently went on to achieve a first class Honours when she began her research training at the Nutrition Physiology Research Centre in the University of South Australia. During her Honours and PhD training, she pioneered the clinical evaluation of endothelial vasodilator (widening of the blood vessels) and cognitive benefits of both resveratrol (an ingredient found in red wine) and an oat extract in adults with age-related endothelial dysfunction.

Having completed her PhD in less than three years, Dr Wong has been awarded the best student oral presentation at a national nutrition conference and received the best PhD thesis prize at the University of South Australia.

After relocating to the University of Newcastle, she continued to investigate the potential of bioactive nutrients to restore endothelial function (blood vessel function), particularly in the brain, in a subclinical population who are at risk of accelerated cognitive impairment. In an invited review to assess the premorbid cognitive ability in type 2 diabetes, she identified the cognitive tests that appear most sensitive to early deficits in this population and also presented important methodological considerations for future intervention studies of the management of diabetes.

She produced the first clinical evidence that adults with diabetes, even though well-controlled, exhibit clinically significant deficits in executive function that are associated with impaired ability of cerebral blood vessels to supply sufficient blood during performance of working memory tasks. This is an important finding for early-prevention of dementia as improvement of cerebrovascular function, particularly in adults with microvascular dysfunction (e.g. diabetics, hypertensives) who are at heightened risk of dementia, may potentially reduce future cognitive decline.

Dr Wong is a NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Fellow and is currently evaluating cerebral vasodilator function (blood vessel widening in the brain) and correlate improvements with enhanced cognition, mood and general wellbeing in postmenopausal women in whom age-related endothelial dysfunction is exacerbated by estrogen deprivation.

Specialised/Technical Skills 

  • Certified Clinical Trials Coordinator by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACPR)
  • Transcranial Doppler ultrasound
  • Assessment of cerebrovascular function using hypercapnia and cognitive stimuli
  • Flow-mediated dilatation and analysis
  • Neuropsychological and behavioural testing
  • Scientific writing and statistical analysis. 

Affiliations

2017

Resveratrol – a cause or cure for migraine? A pilot study in premenopausal women.
Project Grant
Researchers:

Prof Peter Howe, Dr Rachel Wong, Prof Lyn Griffiths

Description:

Migraines are headaches so severe that the World Health Organisation regards them as a form of temporary disability. A throbbing, often unilateral headache lasts from several hours to days and may be accompanied by nausea or a combination of photophobia and phonophobia. In ~20% of cases it is preceded by an aura. Estimated to afflict 15% of Australians, migraines vary considerably in characteristics but are identifiable by internationally classified criteria. The causes of migraine are thought to include both cerebrovascular and neuronal mechanisms to which individuals are genetically or hormonally predisposed. Women are 2-3 times as susceptible as men, particularly during menstruation and perimenopausally, when migraine without aura may result from sudden changes in circulating estrogen, other hormones or prostaglandins. Hormone replacement therapy or phytoestrogen supplementation may help in some cases, although the evidence is weak and mechanisms are unclear. 

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Prevention of type-1 diabetes induced neurocognitive deficits by modulating the plasticity of cerebrovascular function: a pilot
Project Grant
Researchers:

Dr Rachel Wong, Dr Ryu Takechi, Prof Peter Howe, Dr Matthew Albrecht

Description:

Owing to better therapies, patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D) are living longer and are now a unique population that has been little studied. Differing from type 2 diabetes (T2D), the onset of T1D is usually juvenile, but it is increasingly diagnosed in adulthood, requiring immediate insulin therapy. Regardless, T1D and T2D share a common sequelae of blood vessel damage and accelerated cognitive decline. Even children and adolescents with T1D display early declines in executive function and short-term working memory and impaired growth and plasticity of brain tissues, thereby compromising learning in school.

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2014

Assisting post-menopausal women towards healthy ageing - can resveratrol enhance mood and counteract cognitive decline?
Project Grant
Researchers:

Professor Peter Howe, Dr Rachel Wong, Professor Andrew Scholey

Description:

Menopause is a natural transition in every woman’s life, marking the end of fertility. Some women transit with little or no symptoms, while others suffer the onslaught of mood swings, hot flushes, insomnia and ‘brain fog’, which can last for many years.

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