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The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. When something goes wrong—such as dementia associated with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease—the impact can be devastating.
In 2013, approximately 322 000 Australians were estimated to have dementia. By 2050, the total number of Australians with dementia is projected to increase to approximately 900 000. (1)
Dementia refers to a series of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s disease.
In 2012, dementia was ranked as the third leading cause of death in Australia, accounting for an average of 28 deaths per day. (2)
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common dementia disorder worldwide.
Solving complex healthcare problems like dementia is what drives Mater Research Associate Professor Geoffrey Faulkner. Associate Professor Faulkner and his team of ten researchers are working to understand how genetics affect brain function.
A current area of interest in Alzheimer’s research involves mapping single neurons (genome sequencing) to determine how normal mutations in the brain affect memory and function.
“A person’s genome changes throughout their lifetime through a process of natural mutation. However, sometimes this process goes haywire,” Associate Professor Faulkner explains.
While current scientific wisdom suggests the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is the build-up of a ‘plaque’ on neurons that stop them from firing, Associate Professor Faulkner and his team are considering whether a lack of mutation in these neurons may point to a different reason as to why Alzheimer’s occurs.
Mater Research is uniquely placed to conduct this research being one of only two research institutes in the world with the facilities and methods to sequence the genome of a single neuron.
The team is also collaborating with Dr Peter Heutink of DZNE Tübingen, Germany—one of the world’s leading Alzheimer researchers.
This research project is only in its infancy but if successful it could have a life-changing impact on many Australians.
Associate Professor Faulkner was recently awarded the 2014 Millennium Science Award by the Lorne Genome Conference for his other work into pioneering a technique to pinpoint gene mutations in various cancers.
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2013) Dementia. http://www.aihw.gov.au/dementia/
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014) Causes of Death, Australia.