A Dunedin researcher is ''close'' to discovering a diagnostic
test which could help identify people at risk of Alzheimer's
Prof Bob Knight, of the University of Otago's Brain Health
Research Centre (BHRC), told the Otago Daily Times the
centre had been researching the test for about three years,
comparing blood samples affected by the disease with healthy
blood samples to identify differing molecules.
''We have some preliminary results that identify there is an
increase in some molecules [in affected samples]. We are
close to knowing whether or not the molecule that we're
interested in is important,'' Prof Knight said.
''It looks as if it is.''
The research, funded by a $5 million grant from Wellington's
Health Research Council, was ''very important'', he said.
''Our research is about trying to identify Alzheimer's.
''It can take a long time for people who are healthy to
eventually have Alzheimer's. If we can find a test that works
and identify persons at risk, we can instigate treatments a
''We are working on trying to delay it - if it was able to be
delayed, it would be a huge reduction in the number of people
with Alzheimer's disease.
''It's quite likely that some of the drugs that don't work
now for more advanced cases might work at an earlier stage.
''It is really exciting, to be honest.''
Prof Knight said Alzheimer's, a disease primarily of old age
which causes the brain to degenerate, affected more than
40,000 New Zealanders, a number which was expected to triple
That was due to a combination of factors including ageing
''baby boomers'' and increased life expectancy.
''The crazy thing, really, is that it's a tsunami of frail,
elderly people coming towards us.
''It is inevitable that there will be hundreds more,
thousands more, by 2050.
''In a few months, we'll know whether our idea ... is a good
Prof Knight was in Queenstown for the International
Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research, part of
Queenstown Research Week, and was involved in a public
Associate Prof Michael Valenzuela, leader of the Regenerative
Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Research Institute,
University of Sydney, said in a presentation that while the
BHRC's research was important, ''whether it will be
clinically useful is a big question''.
''Blood markers can be useful in the context of cognitive
tests and clinical tests that suggests a person is
declining,'' he said.
''Someone who is completely normal ... there's no clinical
way to use that information - but, that's what we do research
Prof Valenzuela had been researching Alzheimer's and dementia
for about 11 years and one of the key findings to date was
those who ensured their brains stayed active in later life
were at less risk of succumbing.
As a research assistant on a dementia project 11 years ago,
he interviewed patients and their families and saw at first
hand the ''diversity''; while some people aged well, others
The difference between the two groups was a cognitive
lifestyle, he said.
''Some people are just generally always learning new things
and using their brain like an active muscle. Other people
tend to get mentally lazy and not take up such activity and
challenges,'' Prof Valenzuela said.
''That factor is indicative of whether or not people will get
dementia - if you're very active, you've got about half the
• Causes brain to degenerate and makes day-to-day tasks
difficult for sufferers.
• More than 120,000 New Zealanders could be affected by 2050.
• 42% of people over the age of 85 are diagnosed with late
onset Alzheimer's, with changes in the brain beginning 10 to
20 years before symptoms appear.
• There is no cure, but there are ways to delay its onset,
including healthy diet; remaining physically, socially and
cognitively active; challenging brain to learn new skills
like a language, or an activity like dancing, sailing or