Understanding Alzheimer’s – A collaborative approach

1:17 pm 10 Sep 2014

Imaging research is increasingly a collaborative endeavour. Across the world, there are a number of large medical research consortia that utilise imaging technology to better understand diseases of interest one being Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). It is a US based multi national investigation of Alzheimer’s disease, using biomarkers (blood and cerebrospinal fluid) and MRI/PET imaging for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) clinical trials and diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease causes significant chronic disability and currently there is no cure, with 321,600 Australians affected with AD and the number is expected to grow to 900,000 by 2050. The Australian arm of ADNI is a major player in the neuroimaging research towards AD; partnering with the Australian Imaging, Biomarker and Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing (AIBL), the generated neuroimaging data are made available to authorised re searchers worldwide through central ADNI scientific data access portal ‘Laboratory of Neuroimaging (LONI)’ that is hosted by the University of California, Los Angeles.

Seeing an opportunity to gain further insight to AD, researchers at the Melbourne Brain Centre (University of Melbourne Node), have collaborated with AIBL and ANDI to conduct series of studies using imaging tools for early detection of AD. The central aim is to determine the impact of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on imaging and non imaging based markers of AD amongst Vietnam War veterans. Ultimately, they hope to answer the question: Does traumatic brain injury or post traumatic stress increase markers of Alzheimer’s Disease and therefore the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease?

Researchers at the Melbourne Brain Centre have already proven this concept with Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging in the AIBL study where, in the wider community, they have been able to show how the accumulation of Amyloid determines progression towards Alzheimer’s disease. Now they can use this infrastructure to target specific cohorts to examine if there is a greater risk profile for those individuals.

The Veterans study will use objective records of post traumatic stress disorder and quantitative tools (amyloid, metabolic and structural imaging) to detect and measure the presence of AD pathology and other neurodegenerative processes permitting associations to be measured that are free of the bias associated with self reporting. Detailed examination of past and present cognitive performance, medical history, and genetic and clinical variables will facilitate identification of risk factors for AD and determine how important they are in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The study will examine the association of PTSD with AD pathology after correction of the data for other risk factors, and identify genetic or other factors that place an individual at greater risk for PTSD related AD and thereby aid development of preventative strategies and policies. Integration of data with AIBL and ADNI findings will also allow further refinement of imaging tools for early detection of AD. The results of this quantitative, objective study will be a great value to the military and the general community.

In a testament to the value of the study and the ability of the researchers involved to forge a collaborative team, the research is to be funded by the US Department of Defense, a pharmaceutical company with an interest in a suitable diagnostic tool and the Australian Defense foundation. The collaborative approach will continue with work that will:

• Build on and contribute to ADNI and AIBL;

• Make use of multiple imaging techniques (magnetic resonance imaging, MRI; and positron emission tomography, PET);

• Span multiple Victorian biomedical imaging sites (Austin Health in Heidelberg and the University of Melbourne in Parkville).

For more information on the project, or collabora tive opportunities, please contact Dr Robert Williams, williams.r@unimelb.edu.au, or Prof. Roger Ordidge (UMelb Node Director) roger.ordidge@unimelb.edu.au


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