Eddie McGuire and Taylor Adams partner with the Healthy Brain Project
Amyloid and Alzheimer’s disease with Professor Colin Masters
An introduction to the Healthy Brain Project from Dr Rachel Buckley and Dr Yen Ying Lim
Brain Training – What Is It? Does It Work?
Stroke and Dementia with Dr Nawaf Yassi
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed life as we know it, and both Alzheimer’s clinical trials and observational studies have been impacted. Across Australia, Europe and the United States, many studies and trials have stopped in-person clinic visits. This disruption is felt most keenly by short-term, experimental trials (e.g., conducted over 6 months), but most researchers believe that a majority of current trials being conducted over longer periods (e.g., 1-4 years) can be preserved. At the Healthy Brain Project, we have also stopped in-person visits to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. However, we are in a unique position as we are able to continue our remote assessments via web and smartphone apps.
Dr Matthew Pase from The Healthy Brain Project co-led research which studied the risk of dementia in 1,588 participants from the Framingham Heart Study and 3,129 participants from the Cardiovascular Health Study in the USA. The research examined whether a new marker of inflammation in the blood (called sCD14) was associated with the risk of developing dementia in adults over the age of 60. Higher inflammatory levels were associated with greater brain volume loss and cognitive decline. These findings suggest that brain inflammation may be associated with early brain injury leading to dementia.
The Healthy Brain Project’s, Dr Rachel Buckley, published an article on a study which examined nearly 900 healthy older adults to determine genetic, demographic and behavioural predictors of abnormal levels of amyloid in the brain. Researchers found that individuals with genetic risk for AD who were concerned about their memory stood at higher risk of having abnormal levels of amyloid in their brain. Although this risk was statistically important, the effect of the relationship itself was small, highlighting that no one risk factor can itself determine a future diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease of dementia.
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Rachel F Buckley, Sietske Sikkes, Victor L Villemagne, Elizabeth C Mormino, Jennifer S Rabin, Samantha Burnham, Kathryn V Papp, Vincent Dore, Colin L Masters, Michael J Properzi, Aaron P Schultz, Keith A Johnson, Dorene M Rentz, Reisa A Sperling & Rebecca E Amariglio. (2019).
Jie Ding, Kendra L Davis-Plourde, Sanaz Sedaghat, Phillip J Tully, Wanmei Wang, Caroline Phillips, Matthew P Pase, Jayandra J Himali, B Gwen Windham, Michael Griswold, Rebecca Gottesman, Thomas H Mosley, Lon White, Vilmundur Guðnason, Stéphanie Debette, Alexa S Beiser, Sudha Seshadri, M Arfan Ikram, Osorio Meirelles, Christophe Tzourio, & Lenore J Launer. (2020).
Jennifer S. Rabin, Aaron P. Schultz, Trey Hedden, Anand Viswanathan, Gad A. Marshall, Emily Kilpatrick, Hannah Klein, Rachel F. Buckley, Hyun-Sik Yang, Michael Properzi, Vaishnavi Rao, Dylan R. Kirn, Kathryn V. Papp, Dorene M. Rentz, Keith A. Johnson, Reisa A. Sperling, & Jasmeer P. Chhatwal. (2018).
Yen Ying Lim, Nawaf Yassi, Lisa Bransby, Michael Properzi, Rachel Buckley. (2019).
Rachel F. Buckley, Elizabeth C. Mormino, Jasmeer Chhatwal, Aaron P. Schultz, Jennifer S.Rabin, Dorene M.Rentz, Diler Acar, Michael J.Properzi, Julien Dumurgier, Heidi Jacobs, Teresa Gomez-Isla, Keith A. Johnson, Reisa A. Sperling & Bernard J. Hanseeuw. (2019).
Nawaf Yassi, Saimad Hilal, Yinge Xia, Yen Ying Lim, Rosie Watson, Hugog Kuijf, Christopher Fowler, Paulh Yates, Pauli Maruff, Ralph Martins, David Ames, Christopher Chen, Christopher Rowe, Victor Villemagne, Olivier Salvado, Patricia Desmond, & Colin Masters. (2020).
Matthew P. Pase, Jayandra J. Himali, Alexa S. Beiser, Charles DeCarli, Emer R. McGrath, Claudia L. Satizabal, Hugo J. Aparicio, Hieab H.H. Adams, Alexander P. Reiner, W.T. Longstreth, Myriam Fornage, Russell P. Tracy, Oscar Lopez, Bruce M. Psaty, Daniel Levy, Sudha Seshadri & Joshua C. Bis. (2020).
Yen Ying is the primary investigator of the Healthy Brain Project and an Associate Professor at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health (School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University). Her research interests include understanding genetic and lifestyle factors that may accelerate or protect against brain diseases, and developing digital cognitive tools to better detect brain diseases. Her work is supported by the NHMRC, Dementia Australia, the Department of Health and Human Services (Victoria), and the Alzheimer’s Association (USA).
Matthew is an Associate Professor at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health (School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University) and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Boston, USA). Matthew’s research investigates modifiable risk and protective factors as well as biomarkers for dementia, cognitive impairment, and cerebrovascular disease. Matthew’s work is supported by the NHMRC, National Heart Foundation of Australia, Stroke Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association (USA), and National Institute on Aging (USA).
Rachel is a lead investigator of the Healthy Brain Project and an Instructor at Harvard Medical School (USA) and the University of Melbourne (Australia). Her research interests focus on early detection of dementia, specifically in understanding sex differences in risk for Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers, and in the importance of subjective concerns of memory decline in the earliest stages of disease. Her work is supported by the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Aging K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award), the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Women’s Brain Initiative at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Nawaf is a consultant neurologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, with a special interest in stroke, cerebrovascular disease, and dementia. He is also an active clinical researcher and is heavily involved in neuroscience research in the fields of acute stroke, brain imaging, and dementia. He is a joint laboratory head at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research where he leads several studies on cerebrovascular contributions towards dementia, as well as studies looking at better diagnosis and treatment in dementia.
Your participation in the Healthy Brain Project can help transform the way that we conduct and communicate our science. At the Healthy Brain Project, we aim to understand how genes may influence risk for developing brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. By understanding the genetic underpinnings of these diseases, we will obtain important insights into the biological bases of brain disorders, which in turn will provide clues for the development of treatment strategies to slow or even stop disease progression. We are also aiming to understand how risk factors that begin to develop in mid-life (e.g., high cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, diabetes), and protective factors (e.g., social engagement, occupational complexity, diet) act by themselves or together to infer risk for these brain disorders. As these factors are often modifiable, understanding them will mean that we will be able to better inform the types of lifestyle interventions required to help delay disease progression.
We recognise and appreciate the invaluable amount of time and energy that our volunteers have given to the Healthy Brian Project. A key aim of this initiative is to build a community that is interested and invested in learning more about brain health. As such, we encourage all our volunteers to participate in our Healthy Brain Project forum, where you will have the opportunity to discuss recent brain health articles in the media, have your brain health questions answered by one of our experts, support each other in your individual brain health journeys, and be invited to our public lectures, where you will hear about our latest research and meet the brains behind protecting yours. We are also aiming to build a large database of brain health so that we will be able to provide you with some information of how healthy your brain is relative to the general population. At return visits, you will also be able to see how your brain health is tracking over time. Please note that this is NOT a diagnostic service, and we highly recommend that you speak with your primary care physician should you have any concerns about your brain health.
One of the reasons why brain disorders are so hard to cure is because of the length, cost and challenge of conducting clinical trials. The development of a single drug typically takes many, many years. By participating in the Healthy Brain Project, and by completing our surveys and thinking tests, we will be able to better identify individuals who may benefit from being in a clinical trial. This pre-screening process does not only save clinical trials a lot of time, but also allows identified volunteers priority access to brain-health therapeutics. We would like to stress that any information you provide will remain strictly confidential and will only be accessed by the Healthy Brain Project team. Before we provide any information to clinical trials, we will ALWAYS seek your written permission. It is also important to note that if you have been identified for participation in a clinical trial, it DOES NOT mean that you are necessarily at risk of a brain disorder. Many clinical trials require healthy volunteers to act as a basis for comparison. It is as important for us to understand normality as it is for us to understand abnormality.
Basically, our aim is to track a large group of middle-aged Australians so that we can identify which parts of brain biology, genes, psychology and behaviour (or a combination of) can help predict who will progress to dementia later in life. To achieve this, we hope to gather a comprehensive amount of information from 10, 000 volunteers and follow them each year for at least five years (and longer in possible!).
You will be asked to participate in a series of memory and thinking tests, and to fill out surveys related to lifestyle, mood, personality, medical history and demographic information. You can do this over a period of days, whenever you can snatch some spare time! Obviously, we’d like you to do the memory tests in a quiet space, but the surveys can be done on the go on the way to work, if that’s the only time you have!
We will be using your data in a few exciting ways: the first, will be to track your progress over time in relation to your genetic data. In order to fulfil our requirements as researchers, we will be publishing our findings in scientific journals and uploading these publications to the website as we go. Our second way to use your information is to give back information on how you’re progressing in relation to the rest of the group on the website. We are all about open science here! Every time ~500 new participants get involved with the website, we’ll recompute all the averages so that you can determine where you sit in relation to the group. One thing to remember is that our website is NOT a diagnostic service, and is not intended to be used in this way. It is simply our way of giving back to you so that you feel that our work is not a “black box”, but a valuable interaction between scientist and volunteer. Without your involvement, there would be no data!
Any personal and identifying information of yours (name, date of birth, email and home address, phone number) will be kept in password-protected files stored on a secure server at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health. Only authorized members of our research team who are named on our ethics application will have access to your personal and identifying information. Additionally, your personal and identifying information will be stored separately from your testing data (i.e. your responses to questionnaires, your performance on memory and thinking tests). We have also encrypted your personal identifying information so that if there were a security breach, your information would not be traceable. We are doing everything in our power to keep your information safe, and are following Australian Medical Record Safety guidelines and are always being monitored and randomly audited by our Human Research Ethics Committees at Melbourne Health. For any concerns or queries, please email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Drs Lim, Buckley, and Pase were researchers based at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and the University of Melbourne. As such, the Healthy Brain Project was established as a study within these institutions. Since May 2020, we have moved to the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, at the School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University. We would like to acknowledge the support provided by the Florey and the University of Melbourne from 2016 to 2020. We would also like to express our excitement for the new opportunities that being at the Turner Institute will provide our research team, and the Healthy Brain Project more generally. Our research continues to be monitored and ethically approved by Melbourne Health (HREC 2016.199).
If you have any additional questions or concerns about your participation, please email us at email@example.com