Understanding Alzheimer’s disease (2013)
Alzheimer’s disease affects over a quarter of a million Australians. We’re using maths to try to understand how this disease works, so that we can find a solution to early detection.
[Title appears: health@csiro]
[Title appears: Understanding Alzheimer’s disease]
[Image has changed to the outside of a building then zooms in on a sign out the front that reads: The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health – The University of Melbourne – Partners of Melbourne Brain Centre]
In conjunction with researchers in Australia and overseas, CSIRO is using mathematical sciences to explore the complex nature of Alzheimer’s disease and strive to reveal the secrets surrounding its biological triggers.
[Image changes to a monitor showing an x-ray of a human skull]
[Image changes to Dr Sam Burnham, CSIRO Computational informatics]
Sam Burnham: CSIRO’s goal is to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years by the time we hit 2020.
[Image changes to a person using a walking frame and then to various shots of elderly people]
Narrator: Hundreds of thousands of Australians suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and as our population ages, numbers will increase, putting a huge burden on our healthcare services and families.
[Image changes to show Dr Sam Burnham in discussion with another person, and then shows a laptop monitor with scans of a human brain]
CSIRO is using statistics to develop a screening test for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
[Image has changed back to Dr Sam Burnham]
Sam Burnham: Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia and it’s about 50 to 80% of all dementia cases are made up from Alzheimer’s disease.
[Image changes back to Dr Sam Burnham discussing the brain scans on the laptop screen with another person] Currently there’s quarter of a million of Australians suffering from dementia and that’s set to increase to nearly a million by the time we hit 2050.
Narrator: Alzheimer’s is triggered by a build-up of amyloid beta levels, which become abnormal around seventeen years before the onset of dementia.
[Image changes to Dr Lance Macaulay, CSIRO Preventative Health Flagship]
Lance Macauley: Amyloid beta is really the first phase that we can detect in Alzheimer’s disease.
[Image changes to a computer generated image of a protein cell] It’s the earliest biomarker we can pick up. We detect it as a build-up of this protein that miss-folds in the brain and builds up as plaques in the brain very early in the disease.
[Image changes to a person in an MRI machine]
Narrator: It is critical that this build up is detected early if therapies are to be developed to slow or alter the progression of the disease. This is where the maths comes in.
Lance Macauley: Maths plays a very important role in our image analysis work for the AIBL study. If you could understand a human brain is a very complex structure.
[Image changes to a computer monitor showing the MRI scan with two doctors discussing what they see on the screen, image then changes back to Dr Lance Macauley] It’s convoluted and its surfaces are very different, so the mathematicians deconstruct that and make it into an interpretable sphere, a finite volume, that they can analyse.
[Image changes to show logos of various Companies, Universities and other institutions, image then changes to show A.I.B.L – The Australian Imaging, Biomarkers & Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing Website]
Narrator: As part of the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of Ageing – or AIBL – CSIRO is using sophisticated mathematical models for some complex analysis.
[Image has changed back to Dr Sam Burnham]
Sam Burnham: We looked at blood biomarkers as well as some cognitive testing and some demographic information. The panel that we ended up with is based on seven markers taken from the blood as well as age and one cognitive test.
[Image changes to printed numbers scrolling up]
Narrator: Using data from 273 patients, nine out of a possible three hundred biomarkers were isolated that will hopefully give doctors eight to ten year’s notice of the onset of the disease.
[Image changes to show scientist working with samples, then changes to Dr Lance Macauley]
Lance Macauley: What early detection does at the moment is provide us with opportunities to intervene over the time course of the disease.
[Image changes to MRI scans of a human brain]
Narrator: And using CSIRO’s statistical expertise, a solution to early detection could be achieved. [Image has changed back to Dr Lance Macauley]
Lance Macauley: If you want to pull together the biomarker blood panels and pull together the rest of the data with that, it wouldn’t be possible without the maths.
[Image changes to an automated sample machine operating, then changes to show a computer monitor showing sample results]
Lance Macauley: What we’re hoping to do in earlier stages is to have a blood biomarker screen that is really going to be able to pick up, using proteins, lipids, metals in bloods, metabolites such as sugars, etcetera, a combination of those which are going to provide us with a signature if you like, a bit like cholesterol is for heart disease.
[CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here]