CRC for Mental Health

New research could point the way to halt Alzheimer’s disease

July 25, 2017MelanieLatest News0

New results released today point the way toward a potential new Alzheimer’s disease therapy, which will soon be trialled in Australia’s major cities.

A collaboration between researchers at the Florey and CSIRO have shown an association between higher levels of brain iron, the presence of the Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, and poorer memory and language skills.

Dr Scott Ayton and Professor Ashley Bush from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and the CRC for Mental Health led the study, published today in Brain, which used the data gathered from 117 participants in the Australian Imaging and Biomarker Lifestyle (AIBL) study.

Scientists have long known that the slow build-up of a substance known as amyloid in the brain determines whether people will eventually experience Alzheimer’s disease. The team of Australian researchers have shown that about 30 per cent of people in their 70s have high levels of amyloid in their brain, but confusingly, some retain all their cognitive faculties much longer than others.

Some other factor had to be involved. It turns out, that something else may be iron.

Six years ago, 117 AIBL participants had their level of amyloid protein and brain iron measured using brain scans – PET for amyloid and MRI for iron. Every 18 months since, their memory, language, attention and executive functioning has been exhaustively tested. The researchers used this data to see whether brain iron and amyloid can predict people’s cognitive performance.

The Florey’s Dr Ayton says, “Cognitive abilities like short-term memory, executive function and language ability declined much faster in people with high brain iron levels and high amyloid levels, even if they were otherwise healthy, than those with low brain iron who were also amyloid positive.”

Although this study used correlations between iron, amyloid and cognitive performance, and thus iron can’t yet be called a ‘causative’ agent in Alzheimer’s disease, the results make compelling biological sense.

Higher iron levels in the hippocampus of amyloid-positive people predicted worse performance on a series of short-term memory tasks. The hippocampus, curiously enough, is where our short-term memories are created and stored.

Similarly, our powers of language are mainly centred in our temporal lobe (just above where our ears sit) and our frontal lobe, and higher iron in these brain regions predicted poorer performance in language-based tasks.

“These results suggest that iron acts together with amyloid to speed up the Alzheimer’s disease process. Those individuals with high amyloid but low iron will also eventually go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but much later than their high-iron counterparts,” says Dr Ayton.

The discovery was made possible using technology developed by CSIRO and conducted in a collaborative study funded by the CRC for Mental Health.

“We’ve refined MRI technology to allow the very precise mapping of iron levels in the brain,” said CSIRO researcher Dr Olivier Salvado, one of the lead authors on the paper.

“Collaborating with world-leading scientists at the Florey Institute was critical to drive our innovation into potential clinical use.”

The researchers are excited by the study, because it opens up a promising new avenue for Alzheimer’s drug treatments.

To test the theory, Florey scientists plan to use an existing drug, deferiprone, to ‘mop-up’ excess iron in the brain and see if it can slow down the progression of the disease.

“The 3D trial is extremely exciting because for the first time we will be able to assess someone’s risk of progressing into cognitive decline without needing to perform invasive and costly tests. We will also be testing a compound that may prevent or slow the natural course of the disease,” says Professor Bush.

“If the 3D trial results prove that low iron slows disease progression, we imagine a future where your GP sends you off for your 60-year health check, including a brain iron MRI scan, which is quick, cheap and painless. If you have high brain iron, then we would order an amyloid PET scan. Once we had those two measurements, we could predict the likely onset of Alzheimer’s and begin you on therapy to lower the iron, and delay disease onset.”

If you are over 65 and noticed that your memory is declining, or you are newly diagnosed with dementia, you can register your interest in being involved in the study at Eligible participants will be contacted when the study opens for enrolment later this year.


December 2016 newsletter

December 22, 2016MelanieLatest News0

Read the December 2016 CRC for Mental Health newsletter here

July 2016 newsletter

Read the July 2016 CRC for Mental Health newsletter here

  • From the CEO
  • New research collaboration launched with the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute
  • Knowledge exchange project with Mercy Health
  • Publico Program
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Evidence of a lipid link in the inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease

February 4, 2016MelanieLatest News0

Australian researchers have found biochemical changes occurring in the blood, in the rare inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease. Changes in these fat-like substances may suggest a method to diagnose all forms of Alzheimer’s disease before significant damage to the brain occurs.

In an article published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, the Australian team led by Professor Ralph Martins from the CRC for Mental Health and Edith Cowan University, examined the lipid profiles of 20 people who carry a mutation responsible for the rare inherited form of Alzheimer’s, known as familial Alzheimer’s disease.

Using samples from the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) study, the researchers found that people who carried the mutation responsible for this form of Alzheimer’s also had altered levels of specific lipids in their blood plasma compared to the control group. This pilot study, combined with previously published studies in lipids on the most common form of Alzheimer’s disease, suggests that the specific changes in lipid metabolism may be used a predictive test for Alzheimer’s disease.

At present, the most common, sporadic form of Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to diagnose until symptoms are readily apparent and significant damage to the brain has occurred; findings from this study may provide clues to suitable diagnostic markers. While the results are exciting, the researchers involved urge conversation due to the pilot nature of the study.

Read the full paper at the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease 


CRC Association early career researcher awards

December 21, 2015MelanieLatest News0

Each year at the CRC Association annual conference, a number of early career researchers are selected to present their research to the conference. The early career researcher showcases good research, communicated well.

Tenielle Porter, PhD student with the CRC for Mental Health and Edith Cowan University, has submitted her video application where she discusses her research project “Understanding the genetic architecture of rates of change in pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease”.

Broadcast: Diagnosing Dementia – ABC Big Ideas

November 6, 2015Pierre DaoLatest News0

ABC Radio National has broadcast the Diagnosing Dementia event on its Big Ideas program as a part of the ABC’s Mental As week. Hosted by Paul Barclay, an expert panel spoke about how we might be able to detect and diagnose dementia in the future. They also talked about why this research is an important step forward for finding a treatment and even a cure, and when these techniques might become a reality.

Over the past few years, significant progress has been made towards techniques which could diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia 10 – 20 years before symptoms occur. A simple blood test, eye imaging, brain scans and memory tests could all be part of the future for a dementia diagnosis. What could they actually tell us, how accurate are they likely to be and if you could know, would you want to?

The panel consisted of:

  • Mr Graeme Samuel (National President, Alzheimer’s Australia)
  • Ms Jenny Lloyd (Consumer, aged 62)
  • Professor Ashley Bush (Chief Scientific Officer, CRC for Mental Health and Head, Oxidation Laboratory, the Florey)
  • Dr Rachel Buckley – (AADRF Fellow, The University of Melbourne)
  • Dr Shaun Frost – (Research Fellow, Preventative Health Flagship, CSIRO)

You can listen to the broadcast here.

Independent review of CRCMH find we are “Clearly addressing issues of economic and social significance to Australia”

August 20, 2015MelanieLatest News0

In June, we underwent a rigorous independent review conducted on behalf of the Department of Industry and Science. A requirement for all CRCs at the mid-way point of funding, the three day review focused on all aspects of the CRC for Mental Health. I’m pleased to share with you highlights of the Panel’s report:

  • “The Panel commends the CRC on its success in bringing together researchers, industry, end users and students into a cohesive and effective organisation in a relatively short period of time… The Panel considers the science undertaken by both programs to be of a very high quality and clearly addresses issues of economic and social significance to Australia.”
  • “The Panel commends the CRC on the strength of its science and acknowledges the high quality of its research. The Panel was also impressed by how the CRC has enabled collaboration across the neurodegenerative and psychoses research programs. In addition, it was impressive to see end users embedded in and engaged with research projects. It is clear that this could not have happened without the CRC.”
  • “The CRCMH’s education strategy is impressive and robust. It is clear that the PhD and early career researchers identify with the CRC and are very appreciative of the opportunities provided by it… It is clear that the breadth and depth of the educational, collaborative and end user experience that students have gained is a tangible legacy of the CRC”.
  • “The CRCMH’s communication strategy is equally impressive. The strategy explaining biomarkers to the general public is one that could be a model adopted by others working in the sector”.

While these comments are highly complementary, it was also clear from the Panel that with only three years of funding remaining it is time to tightly focus our research efforts and accelerate the translation and commercialisation of our research outcomes. This is in keeping with the CRCMH’s long-standing view that our research must have clear pathways to uptake by the medical technologies and pharmaceutical industries. Over the coming months the CRCMH will be engaging with all of our stakeholders to discuss how we build momentum, move our research further along the commercialisation pathway and continue to work with our industry and clinical end user participants to generate the best outcomes possible.

Our thanks go to the independent review panel Professor Suzanne Miller (Chair), Dr Warren King, Dr Carol Dobson-Stone, Professor David Copolov OAM and Professor Sam Gandy MD PhD. We appreciate their diligence and constructive guidance during the review process.

Professor Ian Cooke
Chief Executive Officer
Cooperative Research Centre for Mental Health


Event: Diagnosing Dementia – What Does the Future Hold?

The CRC for Mental Health is pleased to join with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health and Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation to present “Diagnosing Dementia – What Does the Future Hold?” a free public event on 13 August, 6-8pm at the Melbourne Brain Centre . Hosted by Paul Barclay (Host of ABC Big Ideas), an expert panel will discuss the future of detecting and diagnosing dementia, and how this research will help find a treatment.

The panel will consist of:

  • Mr Graeme Samuel (National President, Alzheimer’s Australia)
  • Professor Ashley Bush (Chief Scientific Officer, CRC for Mental Health and Head, Oxidation Laboratory, the Florey)
  • Jenny Lloyd – (Consumer representative)
  • Dr Rachel Buckley – (AADRF Fellow, The University of Melbourne)
  • Dr Shaun Frost – (Research Fellow, Preventative Health Flagship, CSIRO)

This event will be recorded for ABC Radio National.

More information and registrations for the event can be found here.

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Cytox signs research agreement for collaboration to further refine diagnostic SNPs for Alzheimer’s disease

Cytox Ltd, an innovative developer of assays for risk assessment and prediction of dementia, has entered into a collaborative research arrangement with leading Australian neurodegenerative disease research organisations – the Cooperative Research Centre for Mental Health (CRCMH) and Edith Cowan University (ECU), partner organisations to the Australian Imaging, Biomarker & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing (AIBL). The CRCMH undertakes research in respect of the early identification and treatment of neurodegenerative disease, psychoses and mood disorders. ECU leads the genetic programme within AIBL, a study to discover which biomarkers, cognitive characteristics and lifestyle factors determine subsequent development of symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease. This agreement follows on from the recent funding award by Innovate UK to Cytox, Birmingham University and UCL.

Dr. Richard Pither, CEO of Cytox commented, “AIBL is well established as one of the largest, well-characterised, longitudinal cohorts of healthy ageing and cognitive decline in the world. We have already identified candidate single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) based on next generation sequencing (NGS) studies. This agreement will enable us to further refine SNP selection via NGS sequencing on highly characterised patient populations, through access to selected subjects from the AIBL cohort. CRCMH has previously funded research by ECU on whole exome sequencing of AIBL subjects and analysis of mTOR pathway genotypes and their relationship to Alzheimer’s disease clinical, cognitive and amyloid imaging profiles. This partnership is, therefore, the perfect fit with our aim of developing a genetic variation panel for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) risk stratification. We are confident that the collaboration will contribute significantly to improving the selection of SNPs that are diagnostic and prognostic for Alzheimer’s disease.”

“CRCMH’s main research focus on developing biomarkers which assist in diagnosing these debilitating neurodegenerative diseases before the onset of mental decline,” added Professor Ian Cooke, CEO, CRCMH. “Having already targeted mTOR pathway genotypes with our research partners ECU and AIBL, we are delighted to be working with Cytox, who have recently been awarded Innovate UK funding for their research in this area, and whose approach closely aligns with ours. We look forward to this partnership providing further meaningful diagnostic and prognostic data.”




Australian Science Shines for Pfizer

The CRC for Mental Health was highlighted in the Australian Trade Commission’s case study, ‘Australian Science Shines for Pfizer’. The article features Dr. Daniel Grant (Head of External R&D Innovation Pfizer Australia), as he speaks about Pfizer’s involvement in Australian science, saying “Australia has some of the world’s best academics in areas such as oncology, immunology and neurology.”  Twitter_logo_blue_16 He believes that “creating and maintaining an operating environment that recognises innovation and in turn can attract the growing investment attached to the discovery and development of, in particular, biologics or large molecules, has “the potential to return significant benefits to the Australian economy.” Twitter_logo_blue_16

Pfizer is an important industry participant of the CRC for Mental Health. Dr. Grant describes the work of the CRC as “very exciting” and reaffirms Pfizer’s interest in looking “to grow our interaction with the collaborating partners and in doing so progress the important work of discovering early biomarkers that have the potential to advance the development of new therapies for the treatment of neurodegenerative disease, psychoses, and mood disorders.” He emphasizes that Pfizer has been an “active participant in many of the Australian government’s programs that are designed to support collaborations between companies and academic research groups, such as the Australian Research Council Linkage grants and CRC program,” highlighting the importance of collaborative research in Australia.

Read the full article