Above: Swinburne University PhD candidate, Matthew Pase.
By Yasmin Noone
Can an exotic Indian herb and a French bark extract of sorts unlock the secret to cognition preservation and longevity?
That is the question that Swinburne University (Victoria) PhD candidate, Matthew Pase, hopes to address in about three years time as he now prepares to investigate how effective natural supplements are in improving the function of an ageing brain.
The three-year Australian Research Council Longevity Intervention (ARCLI) study, due to start in around a month's time, will examine the effects of the Indian herb, Bacopa monnieri, and the French pine bark extract, Pycnogenol, on the cognitive performance of around 600 healthy older participants aged 50 to 75, over a 12-month period.
Mr Pase and the study’s two principle investigators, Professor Con Stough and Professor Andrew Scholey, will look at the cognition enhancing effects of the herbs using blood markers, cardiovascular and other variables.
Marking one of the largest randomized control trials of its kind to-date, the double-blind study will also test the efficacy of a combined micronutrient supplement boasting antioxidant benefits and compare the three results to that derived from a placebo.
But most importantly, Mr Pase said, if the results show that the herbs do improve cognition, the study will help his team to understand why.
The herbs, he said, “have a long history of traditional use in the treatment of memory impairment. There is lots of late scientific research of its value.
“…So I am looking to validate [past] research.”
“Their [everyday] use is also increasing…but the research lacks behind what people are actually taking so, through this study, we are looking to advise people to take the herbs or not.
“And, as a lot of the studies conducted in this area are quite small, we are looking to expand that into a larger sample size to get more [conclusive, evidence-based] results.”
Mr Pase stressed the importance of the study to the health of an ageing population.
“There’s a big shift in demographics in Australia and other western nations where more people are becoming elderly. But the downside of longer life is that cognition can decline.
“We are not looking for a one-off solution that will make everyone better but for a [supplement] that can hopefully help people.”
Mr Pase was also recently awarded the 2012 Menzies Foundation's Allied Health Scholarship in support of his research.
As one of only two people to receive the annual award, Mr Pase said he felt incredibly honored upon hearing the news late last year.
“I was very excited and proud…although it did come as a shock.
“Doing a PhD is a full-time job that requires a lot of commitment. It means you [won’t always] have the time to work at the same time.
“So the scholarship means a lot. It wouldn’t be possible to do my PhD without the scholarship funding.”
The scholarship is a welcome addition to Mr Pase’s already impressive record of achievement, having been awarded the Templeton Foundation prize of best student paper from The International Society for Intelligence Research last year for his finding that stiffening arteries affect the cognitive abilities of even middle-aged people.
Right now however, Mr Pase and his team are currently searching for and recruiting trial participants. Ideally, participants will be aged 50 to 75, be healthy and willing to visit Swinburne University a couple of times a year, within one 12-month period.
In return for their time and effort, trial participants will receive a small amount of money to cover transport and lunch costs and / to cover cost of lunch and public transport, “plus a year’s worth of a supplement that is quite expensive. But if they get the placebo then they get a supply of active supplements at the trial's completion”.
To be involved, Mr Pase said, is “to be a part of science and aid scientific discovery”.
“We cop a lot of flack…from GPs and other health professionals, who usually disregard natural herbs because it has the word ‘natural’ but we conduct highly scientific trails.
“If we can establish their efficacy then it would be hard for people to ignore.”
To find out more, contact Mr Pase on 03 9214 5243) or email email@example.com