An ingredient in curry spice, testosterone supplements, retinal scans - they are all tools being used by WA researchers to help battle, prevent or detect memory loss.
Such cognitive loss, and the progressive decline in the ability to think and learn associated with dementia, will affect almost one million people by 2050, according to Alzheimer's Australia, with the cost topping $80 billion by 2063.
Dementia is predicted to overtake cardiovascular disease, cancer and depression as the leading cause of disability within four years.
McCusker Alzheimer's Research Foundation director Ralph Martins said a world-first trial would involve the ingestion of curcumin, an ingredient of the curry spice turmeric, and a powerful anti-oxidant that attacks beta-amyloid in the brain.
Beta-amyloid, a small protein, is believed to be the culprit in the onset of dementia by killing neurons and preventing them from setting down new memories.
In the study to be conducted jointly with a US group, patients will be given a curcumin "pudding" to eat over 3-4 days.
Curcumin binds to amyloid and the build-up can be detected in the retina, with a simple scan showing if the levels are indicative of pre-Alzheimer's. Brain scans will be used to validate the retinal findings.
Early diagnosis will enable prevention strategies to be swung into place for patients well before the brain is severely damaged.
In another WA led trial being conducted in collaboration with Kathryn Goozee, a Sydney dementia consultant and nurse practitioner in aged care, residents at a retirement village will be given a special formula of 500mg of curcumin three times a day for six months to determine if it can reduce amyloid levels and prevent the onset of memory loss.
"Curcumin has other benefits," said Professor Martins, who is also Edith Cowan University's professor of Ageing and Alzheimer's disease.
"It plays a major role in the prevention of a number of cancers and can delay the onset of diabetes in people with pre-diabetes."
Professor Martins said another major clinical trial involving testosterone, as a therapy to lower the levels of amyloid in the brain, will start in Perth this month. It will involve 200 people who have had amyloid detected in the brain.
Previous work by Australian groups had shown that about 30 per cent of people aged 60 or older had amyloid in their brain.
"So we will have to screen 600 to get 200 people for the trial and we will be inviting the public to participate," Professor Martins said.
The McCusker Foundation has received major funding for the trial, the first of its kind in the world, from the WA government, the Federal government Cooperative Research Centres for Mental Health and private donors.
"The evidence is clearly showing now through our large Australian Imaging, Biomarker and Lifestyle (AIBL) Study of Ageing that people who have got low testosterone have high levels of amyloid in their brain," Professor Martins said.
"The ultimate question is, if you give them testosterone, can you bring amyloid down and can you prevent the onset of dementia and preserve memories?"A preliminary study in Indonesia designed and supervised by Professor Martins and his team at ECU has shown a lot of promise for testosterone as a treatment.
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