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The challenge

Detecting the risk of Alzheimer’s disease earlier

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, characterised by the progressive – and irreversible – loss of brain function and affecting a person’s language, memory, personality, and cognitive skills.

Sadly, an estimated 250 Australians are diagnosed with dementia every day; it is the second leading cause of death in the country, and, in 2018, it cost our economy about $15 billion.

While we don’t yet fully understand the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, or have a cure, we do know that people are often diagnosed when their disease has already progressed to an advanced stage of cognitive impairment.

Through our research in disease biomarkers, we’re working to develop a non-invasive diagnostic test that can detect Alzheimer’s disease risk earlier.

With an earlier diagnosis, people might be able to implement strategies to help delay the disease’s onset.

Our response

Discovering and validating new biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease in saliva

Saliva is the easiest tissue for people to collect themselves for testing, but it is the least explored for biomedical purposes.

Our scientists are analysing saliva for its potential to indicate an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, by taking samples from people who have mild cognitive impairment and from people who already have the disease.

Using a technique called mass spectrometry, which can identify different molecules based on their mass, our researchers are working to build a snapshot of all the changing levels of metabolites and proteins in these saliva samples.

With this whole picture, and with the help of bioinformatics (where information technology is used to better interpret biological data), our researchers will work to identify the salivary metabolites and proteins that are the most different in people with Alzheimer’s disease, and which are most indicative of Alzheimer’s disease risk in people with mild cognitive impairment.

This discovery would enable our researchers to identify biomarkers strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. With this information, we could develop a device GPs could use to detect these biomarkers from a single saliva sample – a potentially fast, affordable testing option for Alzheimer’s disease risk throughout Australia.

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