- Alzheimer’s world first
- Bipolar depression treatment trial recruiting
- Testosterone and fish oil trial for Alzheimer’s
- National Science Week 2013
- Professor Ralph Martins appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia
- Professor Christos Pantelis awarded prestigeous 2013 Robert Sommer medal
- A/Prof Simon Laws and Dr Stephanie Rainey-Smith recipients of Junior Faculty Award at ADPD conference
Geelong researchers are set to undertake a world-first trial of a new treatment for bipolar depression.
The treatment involves both a compound called N-acetyl cysteine, known as NAC, which is thought to reduce the effect of underlying physical brain changes, and a combination of potentially energy boosting nutraceutical agents including NAC.
Bipolar disorder affects functioning of the brain, causing people to experience extreme high or low moods. People with bipolar disorder spend three times longer in the depressive phase than in the manic phase.
The Geelong scientists hope the prognosis for sufferers could soon change.
“We know that during bipolar depression, changes happen which affect the body’s ability to detoxify certain compounds. We also know that mitochondria, the cells energy producers, don’t work in the usual way. The drug NAC that we’re trialing and the combination work on both of these problems at once, could lead to quicker recovery”, said Professor Michael Berk, researcher with Barwon Health and the CRC for Mental Health.
The researchers are now seeking volunteers for the trial who are over 18 years of age and have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Geelong resident Nicci Wall has been involved in several of the group’s research projects and is hopeful that researchers will find more effective treatments and ways to identify the disorder at earlier stages.
“Bipolar disorder is a very complex illness and diagnosis and treatment can be difficult. For myself, I had my first episode at 14 but it took until I was 35 to receive a full diagnosis and treatments that worked for me,” said Mrs Wall.
“I’ve made the decision to be involved in research projects because as we learn more about the disorder, better treatment and diagnosis options can be developed. People with bipolar disorder tend to wait until they have an acute episode before they see a doctor, but if treatment starts early, better outcomes can be reached.”
“I’ve found the research trials to be a very calming, unpressured environment. Barwon Health staff really took the time to check how I felt throughout the research and I got the feeling that my well-being was as important as the results.”
The research team for this project has a long association with the Geelong region and a distinguished track record in psychiatry research. In addition to his roles with Barwon Health and the CRC for Mental Health, Professor Berk holds the Alfred Deakin Professor of Psychiatry at Deakin University and holds conjoint Professorial Research Fellowships at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and theUniversity of Melbourne.
Professor Berk’s team is now taking a wait list for the trials, which will begin in April 2013. To volunteer, or for more information, contact 03 4215 3309 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In this issue:
- 2012 Annual Research Conference
- Early career researcher workshop
- Visit by The Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing
- Student visits to Mercy Health
- Media – the promise and challenge of biomarkers for mental illness
- Podcast – Not just one thing, art, science and schizophrenia
- Outcomes from ‘Australia’s population: shaping a vision for our future’, Australian Academy of Science event.
Read the full CRC for Mental Health December 2012 Newsletter.
Our CEO, Professor Ian Cooke was recently published in The Conversation on “The promise and challenges of biomarkers for mental illnesses” http://theconversation.edu.au/the-promise-and-challenges-of-biomarkers-for-mental-illnesses-10195
The article was based on a longer speech given by Professor Cook at the Cooperative Research Centre breakfast with the Health Minister Tanya Plibersek at Parliament House Canberra in August 2012.
TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH GIVEN AUGUST 2012
Minister, Honorable Members and Senators, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak about the CRC for Mental Health.
We were established last year to progress the early detection and effective treatment of the most tragic forms of mental illness, including Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Our participants include Australia’s leading academic and clinical neuroscientists, plus major public and private sector providers of aged care and mental health care services. We have the world’s largest pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which has long been a strong supporter of basic and applied medical research in Australia, plus several of the world’s smallest – based in Melbourne and Perth.
Our objective is simple – to put it bluntly, we want to be able to stop people from losing their minds.
Our principal focus is on the discovery and development of biomarkers to help diagnose mental illness before the onset of irrecoverable mental decline and assist in the development and deployment of new drugs, patient management strategies and, ultimately, new population heath initiatives.
As a community we are used to the concept of chronic, as yet incurable disease. We know people of all ages who cope with cancer, some being lucky enough to survive, others who die after what we usually refer to as a courageous battle. We venerate the affected individuals, their carers and those who seek cures. We are disappointed in our inability to prevent these forms of suffering, but we can track incredible and recent progress in prevention and treatment and we are confident that science will continue to make things better.
We see, as a benchmark, the outstanding successes of cardiovascular medicine over the past decades. We now understand the causes; have in place effective drugs and lifestyle modification strategies and are able to implement powerful preventive programs at the level of the population. Critically, we have simple biomarkers, such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol, which enable us to measure risk and response to intervention, both in individuals and at the level of the population.
By contrast, as a community we struggle with the concept of mental illness. We are naturally uncomfortable with people whose reality is different from ours, especially when that was not always the case. We want to hear the great stories of resilience, of recovery, but they are few and definitely atypical.
Instead, the overwhelming reality, the one that our CRC seeks to address, is of individuals who are losing their minds – who slip away from their lifetime experience, their personality, their creativity, their dreams, their relationships, their ability to love and feel loved. This reality is about individuals whose gradual mental deterioration often creates an enormous emotional and economic burden for the people who love them the most, with the consequence that the responsibility for day-to-day care must pass to others who, while dedicated, typically know little about past lives and personalities of the many individuals for whom they must care and often do not know much about the nature of the disease that affects them.
At present, we have little to offer. Our methods of diagnosis are complex and to a degree subjective. Our therapeutic armamentarium is sparse – the few drugs that are available to treat patients with mental illnesses are typically old and only partially effective. We have no effective strategies to prevent mental illness. We have no biomarkers to guide us.
This is a great year to be a physicist in Australia. We have Brian Schmidt’s Nobel Prize, we have the announcement of verification of the existence of the Higgs boson and we have the recent decision on the location of the Square Kilometre Array. We have a public that is entranced by esoteric concepts such as dark matter and dark energy and eager to learn more.
Astrophysics and particle physics are probably the stand-out examples of the successes of big cooperative science – in which teams of extraordinarily capable individuals are able to subjugate individualism and ego to design and implement large-scale long-term research programs to pursue the really big challenges – to find the tiny, meaningful signal among the noise
In my hand here I hold a human brain. It is the location of personality, emotion, learning and wisdom in a unique individual.
This brain contains 100 billion nerve cells – approximately the same as the number as there are galaxies in the observable universe. Each cell makes on average, 1000 connections with other neurons, representing the potential for 100 trillion simultaneous information transactions.
Mental illness is the result of aberrant biological function in this dynamic structure – some biochemical process gone astray.
This is an image of a section of a human brain taken from an individual who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, by far the most common cause of dementia in the community.
We do not know what actually causes Alzheimer’s disease. Age is the greatest single risk factor. Other significant risk factors include family history (genetics), gender (female) and various life exposure factors including head trauma, cardiovascular disease and living alone.
In this image you can see the neuroscientist’s version of dark matter. This is the dominant distinguishing feature of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients– the deposition in the brain of plaques of amyloid protein. Here we see small levels of amyloid in the brain of a cognitively normal aged person and here is the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s Disease.
It looks menacing. Yet the actual amount of this abnormal material in an Alzheimer’s brain is very small – about 10 milligrams. It may take 20 years for this amount of amyloid to accumulate in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient. While this may be our strongest lead, we have yet to convincingly explain dementia in terms of amyloid protein dysfunction in the brain and new drugs designed to reduce amyloid load have not yet proven effective in slowing the progression of dementia in Alzheimer’s patients.
We face similar frustrations in understanding and trying to deal with other forms of mental illness – we cannot tie the illness to a specific biological process gone wrong and thus we are not in a position to treat the illness effectively by rectifying the aberrant biology.
Every biological process creates a biological signal – the molecular product or products of a biochemical reaction.
An aberrant biological process must create a signal that is different in some way from normal processes. These signals are inherently detectable in one of more of the body’s biological fluids – the CRC’s aim is to discover them among the noise of the myriad signals arising from normal biological processes and determine their relationships to disease processes in different forms of mental illness.
A fundamental challenge is to look in the right direction. To discover useful biomarkers, we must study not only individuals who have a defined mental illness but, most critically, individuals who will one day develop mental illness, but well before their symptoms become apparent.
The CRC for Mental Health has been created on the foundation of what is generally regarded to be the most successful, prospective study of ageing and dementia in the world – AIBL – the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing. It was established 6 years ago, as a joint venture by our 5 major public sector research participants.
AIBL has over 1000 participants aged over 60 and includes healthy controls, individuals with mild cognitive impairment and individuals with diagnosed Alzheimer’s Disease. They are assessed every 18 months – including comprehensive physical, clinical psychological and lifestyle assessments, brain imaging and samples taken for investigation of potential biomarkers. The 54-month assessments are in progress and will be completed next year.
The CRC for Mental Health was funded to analyse the AIBL samples for potential biomarkers that will enable us to predict the occurrence of Alzheimer’s Disease and inform about progression of the disease.
In addition, we have established new prospective cohorts, based on the AIBL model and protocols, to enable us to investigate potential biomarkers of Parkinson’s Disease and treatment-resistant schizophrenia. Furthermore, we are leveraging other major Australian prospective cohort studies – including the WA Family Study of Schizophrenia (10 years) and the famous Geelong Osteoporosis Study (>15 years) to extend these biomarker investigations.
What distinguishes our approach in AIBL from other prospective studies elsewhere is its extraordinary rigour in subject management and sample collection – to reduce noise, so that we can detect faint, but real signals – the equivalent of astronomers placing their most sensitive telescopes on vibration-proof settings far away from any human sources of radiation (light). This rigour is why we have Pfizer by our side. We are applying this world leading approach to our new prospective cohorts for other forms of mental illness.
Finally – here is an example of what we are searching for – a potential biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease that can be detected in the blood.
This is a scan of proteins in blood taken from Alzheimer’s patients and healthy controls. It shows only the very low abundance proteins – all of most abundant species have been filtered out. Proteins that occur in both healthy and Alzheimer’s individuals are coloured yellow, those found only in healthy individuals are green and those only in AD individuals are red.
Here we have a potential marker – a tiny red spot – a single species of protein that appears only in Alzheimer’s individuals but which is absent from individuals who remain cognitively healthy.
We have a long way to go before we can prove the value of this particular discovery or any other discoveries of this form that we might make. It might ultimately lead us to a biochemical pathway that we can modify with a new drug, or perhaps with something as simple as a dietary supplement or lifestyle modification. However, the CRC for Mental Healthis now positioned to pursue these opportunities and translate them new products and new approaches to clinical management and disease prevention that will benefit potentially millions of individuals and generate ongoing social and economic benefits for Australia.
Thank you for your attention.
In this issue:
- Reflecting on the successes of the 2011/12 year
- Not just one thing – art, science and schizophrenia, free events 10 and 12 October, Melbourne
- Hall and Prior wins Better Practice Award
- Science and policy
Read the full CRC for Mental Health October 2012 Newsletter.
This event was held 10 October and 12 October and subsequently broadcast on ABC Radio National’s “All in the Mind”. A link to the podcast can be found here.
Wednesday 10 October and Friday 12 October
6:30 – 7:30pm, Free show
Venue: The Dax Centre, Kenneth Myer Building
Corner of Genetics Lane & Royal Parade
Join us for a history of schizophrenia, exploring the illness through art, story-telling, science and personal perspectives. Hosted by Lynne Malcolm (ABC Radio National “All in the Mind”), the show features:
- Professor Brian Dean, CRC for Mental Health
- Emma Last, The Dax Centre
- Professor Jayashri Kulkami, Alfred Hospital
The show is a collaboration between the Cooperative Research Centre for Mental Health and The Dax Centre. This Unlocking Australia’s Potential initiative is supported by the Australian Government as part of Inspiring Australia. The show is part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
For more information see melbournefringe.com.au
Professor Ashley Bush has been appointed to the advisory council of the professional association, the International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment (ISTAART).
Through his involvement with the ISTAART advisory council, Professor Bush will provide input into ensuring Alzheimer’s disease researchers have the means to strengthen their scientific knowledge and network with their peers.
The position will complement Professor Bush’s role as Chief Scientific Officer with the CRC for Mental Health, where he encourages networking and sharing of scientific knowledge between Australian researchers in the fields of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and mood disorders.
Professor Bush joins a select group of Alzheimer’s experts on the council, which has included CRC program leader Professor Colin Masters (Mental Health Research Institute). The council represents a variety of research disciplines, with members active in conducting and presenting research findings, publishing and presenting papers and books.
For more information about ISTAART, including its members visit the Alzheimer’s Association (USA) website.
In this issue:
- Appointment of new independent directors
- Half-day research meeting, 19 April
- Inspiring Australia science communication grant win
- Project profile: Biomarkers for psychiatric disorders
- RASAD 2012
- McKeon review submission
“Not just one thing – art, science & schizophrenia” is a new approach to understanding this complex mental illness.
Story-telling events will be held in Melbourne which combine scientific expertise from the CRC for Mental Health with selections from the Dax Centre’s collection of artwork created by people experiencing a mental illness.
The events will describe a history of schizophrenia, exploring the illness through art, science and personal perspectives.
The project is one of 63 Unlocking Australia’s Potential science communication grants announced today by the Minister for Science and Research, Senator Chris Evans.
“The projects are aimed at developing greater interest in science, especially for those who might have missed out on the opportunity to engage with science before,” said Senator Evans speaking on the grant announcements.
“Not just one thing – art, science & schizophrenia”, will take place on 10 and 12 October as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. For more information, email@example.com
About the Unlocking Australia’s Potential grants
A total of $5 million has been awarded across the country. Read Senator Evans media release on the grants.
The prime objective of the grants program is to increase the engagement of Australians in science and it has prioritised projects that engage people who may not have had previous access to or interest in science-communication activities. Inspiring Australia is an initiative of the Australian Government.
The CRC for Mental Health has provided a submission to the Australian Federal Government’s Committee on Health and Ageing inquiry into dementia: early diagnosis and intervention.
The Committee inquired into and reported on dementia early diagnosis and intervention practices in Australia. For more information on the inquiry, visit the House of Representatives website.
The CRC’s submission recommends research collaborations for new therapeutics as well as research to increase understanding of possible preventive measures for dementia. CRC for Mental Health Dementia inquiry submission.