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Residents key in taking lab findings to community

Anglicare residents are playing a crucial role in a study to advance the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease via a blood test.

The study of 105 healthy village residents from Anglicare, a provider of aged care and retirement living in NSW, has found two blood markers that may point to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms occur.

Anglicare director of dementia and clinical research Associate Professor Kathryn Goozee is the lead author of two papers on these findings, one of which was published in Molecular Psychiatry on Tuesday.

She said these blood markers – one associated with the fatty acids and the other known as Ferritin – were not new but their correlation with the accumulating beta-amyloid protein at a time when symptoms were not present was “highly significant”.

Kathryn Goozee

The presence of this protein in the brain is one of the features of Alzheimer’s disease and researchers have already shown it may be accumulating up to 20 years prior to symptoms, Dr Goozee said.

“If we can find ways to detect changes that are happening early in a way that is convenient, easy and economical that is something that can be utilised in a clinical space,” Dr Goozee told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Blood tests may become a standard of assessment to help confirm brain health in the future, she said.

“We are looking for ways to detect this disease much earlier because people who develop Alzheimer’s disease have significant damage already done before the symptoms appear,” she said.

Residents’ key role

The research is part of the KARVIAH study, a collaborative project by Anglicare, the KaRa Institute of Neurological Diseases in NSW and the McCusker Alzheimer’s Research Foundation in WA with leading dementia researcher Professor Ralph Martins as chief investigator.

It is targeting early intervention and better understanding of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Goozee said she and Professor Martins instigated the collaboration as a way of taking the findings from the research laboratory to the community.

Over 270 Anglicare retirement village residents volunteered to be in the initial 12-month study, of which 105 were found medically healthy and eligible to participate.

The participants, aged 65–90 with an average age of 78, underwent three types of brain scans and retinal imaging before the intervention started.

They also donated blood at the start, then again after six months and 12 months, completed intensive cognitive testing and filled out lifestyle questionnaires.

Dr Goozee said that 37 per cent of the 105 participants had a higher beta amyloid load in the brain, which puts them at a higher risk of having Alzheimer’s disease.

The project also involves investigating the effect an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory supplement called Curcumin has on the onset of Alzheimer’s.

The preliminary findings suggested a longer period of time taking the supplement was required and the study has been extended for two years, Dr Goozee said.

“We believe having people on the long-term Curcumin may have some benefit in being able to slow their accumulation or reduce what’s already there.”

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