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First dementia research clinic for New Zealand

First dementia research clinic for New Zealand

Treatment options to help slow the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will be trialled at New Zealand’s first Dementia Research Clinic, in Auckland later this year.

The Clinic will operate within the Brain Recovery Clinic at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research (CBR) in Grafton. Development of the Auckland Dementia Research Clinic was made possible this year with two major new philanthropic donations to the CBR.

“We have had extremely generous donations from the Alzheimer’s New Zealand Charitable Trust ($300,000) and the Angus Trust ($210,000 over 3 years),” says CBR Director Professor Richard Faull from the University of Auckland.

“This funding is to establish the research clinic at the CBR, where systems and research programmes will be trialled to guide the shape of future clinics in other main centres,” he says. “We have long held a vision of a network of research clinics in major centres around the country to support the research into the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”

“We are thrilled that these two Trusts share this vision and with their wonderful support will truly help us to make the dream come true.”

The Dementia Research Clinic will be the first in the national research clinic network to be established under the auspices of the new Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ)’s Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE).

The CoRE was awarded jointly to the Universities of Auckland and Otago and is co-directed by Professors Cliff Abraham and Richard Faull. Future Dementia Research Clinics are planned for Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.

“These clinics will investigate and trial novel treatments for Alzheimer’s patients in the very early stages of the disease,” say CoRE Directors, Cliff Abraham and Richard Faull. “The purpose is to trial different treatment options on well characterised clinical populations, which could slow down the onset and/or progression of the disease.”

Clinic patients (and care-givers) will provide a well-characterised cohort who will be offered the opportunity to participate in a range of studies emerging from the participating CoRE research partners – the CBR, the Brain Health Research Centre at the University of Otago, the University of Canterbury, the NZ Brain Research Institute, and the Auckland University of Technology.

The balance of the funding to operate the Clinics will come from the CoRE funding allocated to the project and this together with hopefully additional philanthropic donations will enable the Clinics to operate well into the future.

Both Directors are confident that more funding will become available in future years to enable the vital work of the CoRE clinics to continue well into the future.

Individuals with mild cognitive impairment and in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s Disease interested in taking part in the research trials will be referred from specialists and DHB Memory Clinics.

They will undergo detailed multidisciplinary evaluations to characterise the patient's neurological and psychological condition, their general health and lifestyle, along with brain imaging using MRI, and blood samples for research analysis and biomarker identification and monitoring.

“By looking at novel methods to delay the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease this network of national dementia research clinics has the potential to change the future of Alzheimer’s disease in New Zealand.

“We know that diet, exercise, cognitive stimulation, social interactions, environment and occupational therapy all have the potential to contribute to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” they say. “If we are able to delay the onset by two years that would see the prevalence of Alzheimer’s drop by 20 percent. If we can delay Alzheimer’s onset by five years it would reduce the prevalence by 50 per cent.”

At present, there are about 50,000 New Zealanders suffering from dementia with the numbers predicted to increase to about 150,000 people by 2050.

“We have no magic cure for Alzheimer’s but we believe that packaging new treatments and innovative care has the potential to delay the onset and progression,” say Professors Faull and Abraham.

Co-director of the Auckland Dementia Research Clinic, Associate Professor Lynette Tippett from the School of Psychology, says the Clinic will provide individuals and families with the chance to be part of this research drive to make a real difference in our knowledge about the underlying causes, treatment, management and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

“From the first day that people attend the clinic they will already be active participants in research,” she says. “The Clinic will also be collecting information and listening to the experiences and needs of care-givers and family members.

“People who attend with early onset signs of dementia will be invited to participate in a range of preliminary clinical trials, developed as part of the research programme,” she says. “These may include testing novel drugs, nutritional supplements, and cognitive, social and physical interventions that are designed to prevent, delay or ameliorate Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.”

“We are fortunate in Auckland to have the involvement of some highly experienced medical specialists in dementia helping to develop and establish the Clinic.”

The other Co-director of the Auckland Clinic is geriatrician, Dr Phil Wood and the Clinic will also employ a full-time neuropsychologist, and a part-time psychiatrist and neurologist, as well as a research nurse. The Auckland Clinic is expected to be open initially to participants one day per week.

The Clinics are not intended to be an alternative to the health service and will not be taking over the care of patients with dementia from the DHBs, says Dr Tippett.

“They are research clinics that will provide participants with “a thorough assessment and feedback on their condition together with an involvement in exciting research opportunities”.

It’s “an extra” to their ongoing health care, which provides individuals the opportunity to participate in trials testing a range of interventions that might make a difference to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, she says.

ENDS

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