Brain power

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Associate Professor Kate Hoy
Associate Professor Kate Hoy

Fighting diseases such as Alzheimer’s is challenging, but with your donations, Associate Professor Kate Hoy is developing groundbreaking treatments for these debilitating conditions.

Associate Professor Kate Hoy leads a team at the Monash University and Epworth Centre for Innovation in Mental Health, investigating novel treatments for cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia and Huntington’s disease, as well as for traumatic brain injuries.

Using brain stimulation techniques, including those proven effective in treating depression, clinical trials are underway in her world-leading research aimed at improving the memory function of people with Alzheimer’s. It’s work that has progressed thanks, in no small part, to thousands of dollars donated by supporters like you.

“Those donations are often the difference between pursuing a really innovative idea or not,” says Kate. “And it may not seem like a lot in the context of how much clinical trials cost, but sometimes it’s just all you need to keep things ticking over; to get that little bit more data to support a large application. So those donations are critical.”

“Your support allows us to pursue research into much-needed innovative treatment approaches for dementia. Thank you for your generosity and your vision.”

Positive impact

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, which is the second-leading cause of death in Australia, and the leading cause among women. In Kate’s trials, 50 people with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s have undergone a form of transcranial magnetic stimulation called theta burst stimulation (TBS) – a technique that uses a magnetic field to generate electrical activity in specific regions of the brain, ‘firing’ damaged cells to rebuild connections.

Yvonne is one of those patients. As the head of a successful self-made business, the youthful and energetic 71-year-old has always been willing to break ground. With a background in psychology, she also understands the importance of supporting new research.

“Anything that can enhance people’s health and appreciation of life is worthwhile,” she says. “Given that Alzheimer’s has such an impact not only on the people who have it but also their families and friends, if we can address it in a simple, effective way, that would be just amazing.”

Yvonne says, for her, being involved in the trial has had a positive impact. She’s experienced an increased clarity in her thinking and her ability to recall. Whether or not that was a placebo effect, there’s no doubting the renewed confidence she now feels after being knocked “off-balance” by her diagnosis.

“I went into the research project without strong expectations, but I have really gained apparent benefits,” she says. “I’m more confident about recalling what I have been reading, and just getting into my car and driving to the Epworth was great. I hadn’t driven for months and I was very nervous about getting behind the wheel, but after doing it once my confidence came back. It’s been great to feel like the me of old!”

Ways forward

Kate says while it’s too early in the trial for definitive findings, there are positive signs that indicate the research is worth pursuing. Trial data is being analysed to determine levels of improvement in memory function and how long those benefits last.

Continued donations will help fund more trials of longer or multiple treatments to sustain any improvements for as long as possible. And Kate is also starting a long-term dementia-prevention study, treating people with mild cognitive impairment with a form of gentle electrical stimulation called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS).

In people with Alzheimer’s, Kate explains, particular disease proteins congregate around neurons in the brain, damaging them and their ability to connect. Without the ability to talk to each other, these neurons break down, lose contact and eventually die, reducing functional connectivity in the brain. While other researchers are working to reduce harmful protein levels, Kate is targeting those nodes in the brain’s network, stimulating activity to repair the damaged connections – and therefore people’s cognitive function.

“I would like to see different types of brain stimulation developed to modulate brain activity and give people options for improving their cognition when they have these significant disorders – particularly dementia,” she says. “I want to ensure people’s brain health is as strong as possible for as long as possible, and even if we can do something that delays [disease] progression for one or two years, that is really significant.”

More information

To find out more about Monash’s ambitious program of research into dementia, including the new National Centre for Healthy Ageing, contact Marita O’Callaghan at Marita.OCallaghan@monash.edu.

To donate to life-saving research projects such as this one, visit our website. Your support will help Change It. For Good.

Words: Melissa Marino; Photo: Daniel Mahon