HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

Co-Director of UNSW Sydney’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), Professor Perminder Sachdev AM, has been awarded a $3.289 million National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grant to develop robust biomarkers for vascular cognitive impairment and dementia.

The prestigious award, which provides funding over five years, will allow researchers at CHeBA to identify, validate and demonstrate the research and clinical utility of biomarkers, especially small vessel disease, contributing to cognitive decline and dementia.

By the year 2030, Australians over the age of 65 years will comprise 22% of the population with a current estimate of 447,116 Australians living with dementia and over a million people involved in their care.

About 250 new diagnoses of dementia are made each day and by 2050 the prediction is that there will be nearly 900,000 Australians living with dementia.

Professor Sachdev’s research in cognitive ageing and dementia spans two decades with the over-arching objective of reducing the burden of late-life cognitive disorders.

Dementia is estimated to cost greater than $15 billion per year and is the second leading cause of death in Australia - first in women – and there is no cure, said Professor Sachdev.

The two leading causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia and it is generally claimed that vascular dementia accounts for 15-30% of all dementia.  Further, cerebrovascular disease is a common co-occurrence with other brain pathologies and the total contribution of vascular pathology to dementia may be as high as 50-70%.

While research in Alzheimer’s disease has advanced rapidly in the last three decades and we may be at the threshold of disease-modifying drugs, the research effort in vascular dementia has been much more modest, even though vascular dementia has been referred to as ‘preventable dementia’, said Professor Sachdev.

The investigator grant will allow Professor Sachdev and his team to explore several biomarkers to determine the most robust single or combined set of biomarkers.

“A research program will then follow to translate the biomarkers into both research and clinical practice, and the application of surrogate markers of vascular cognitive impairment and dementia to clinical trials,” he said.

“The expectation is that in five years, these biomarkers will have routine application in research and in the clinic, which will be a major advance in our fight against dementia,” said Professor Sachdev.