Above: Ita Buttrose at a recent Alzheimer’s Australia campaign on St Valentine’s Day.
Alzheimer’s Australia president, Ita Buttrose, has urged a group of international researchers to join the advocacy organisation’s Fight Dementia campaign, which aims to convince voters and policy makers that dementia “can be beaten” through more research.
Speaking at a public lecture, held during an Alzheimer’s disease research conference in Melbourne this week, Ms Buttrose outlined the case for more research funding and the need for better understanding of dementia.
“Our biggest challenge lies in convincing the community and the government that dementia is not a natural part of ageing – it is caused by diseases of the brain,” she said.
“Alzheimer’s Australia believes dementia is a disease that can be beaten but to do so we need a much greater investment in research.
“Too few people realise scientists are currently making breakthroughs that will potentially allow Alzheimer’s disease to be identified while people are in their 40s and 50s, many years before dementia symptoms appear. This will lead to new opportunities for early intervention and treatment.”
“The work you are doing is at the very forefront of human endeavour,” Ms Buttrose told researchers at the conference, encouraging them to help elevate the field alongside other areas of science that have captivated the public’s imagination, like “discovering the mysteries of the universe, or landing a man on the moon”.
“We must take every opportunity to do more to communicate the excitement of world-wide dementia research as the cutting edge of medical science in this century,” she said.
Alzheimer’s Australia launched its Fight Dementia campaign in October last year to lobby the federal government to establish a national action plan to combat dementia, and seeks a five-year, $500 million commitment in this year’s Federal Budget to fund measures detailed in the organisation’s action plan.
“Research is vital if we are to beat dementia,” Ms Buttrose said. “Our strategic plan calls for $200 million of the $500 million to be used for dementia research.”
The public lecture, ‘Consumers and researchers fighting Alzheimer’s disease together’, was held at the Melbourne Brain Centre on Tuesday night as part of the Research and Standardisation in Alzheimer’s Disease conference (RASAD 2012).
Speeches were also given by Dr Maria Carrillo from Alzheimer’s Association USA and Professor David Ames, co-chair of the AIBL study (Australian Imaging, Biomarker & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing).
The AIBL study is now one of the world’s largest partnerships of its kind, involving positron emission tomography (PET) scans to detect the presence of amyloid beta, the protein believed to be associated with Alzheimer’s, in the brain.
One of the key aims of the AIBL study is to discover a blood-based biomarker to enable the development of a simple and effective blood test for the disease.
Professor Ames also used the occaision to highlight the vital role that the community can play in helping advance research into the disease – by helping recruit volunteers for studies like AIBL.
“People can volunteer to participate in the study if they are over 75 and are worried about their memory, or are over 60 and have a diagnosed memory problem” Professor Ames said.
The study is also looking for healthy volunteers, and Professor Ames encouraged partners of those who met the above criteria to also consider signing up to participate.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Baggoley, opened the RASAD 2012 conference and also highlighted the importance of dementia research in his speech.
“Research is crucial if we are to better understand the factors causing this devastating condition, to ensure that people with the condition have a better quality of life through improved treatments and services, and to reduce the number of people affected in the coming years,” Professor Baggoley said.
“… Translation of research must go beyond translation into clinical practice. It must also become accessible directly to older people, their carers and families who all have a role in helping to prevent dementia.”