Improving diagnosis and treatments for dementias
Our dementia research focuses on understanding the origin and development of dementias, and identifying new ways to diagnose, support and treat people living with these conditions.

About our research

The Brain and Mind Centre’s ForeFront Ageing and Neurodegeneration Team leads significant programs of research in dementia targeting several areas, including:

  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Familial Dementia

Our long-term research aims to improve and expedite diagnosis and to better understand how neurodegenerative disease processes work, so that we can treat and potentially halt these debilitating diseases.

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is Australia’s second most common degenerative disease that causes dementia in younger adults. We are dedicated to finding better ways to diagnose and treat FTD, and understanding the origin and development of the condition.

Our dementia and movement disorders lab, led by Professor Glenda Halliday, focuses on how neurodegeneration manifests when symptoms first appear and how this relates to:

  • pre-disposing factors such as genetic makeup
  • the degree of neuronal degeneration and tissue loss over time
  • physical changes in remaining brain cells and tissues
  • molecular changes in brain tissue over time
  • the onset of different clinical features
  • blood markers of the different pathologies.

The purpose of this research is to develop sorely needed new diagnostic criteria for the earliest stages of the disease and identify potentially modifiable factors that hold great promise for therapeutic treatments.

Our research has led to the development of a disease severity staging scheme to assist with further research in the non-Alzheimer frontotemporal dementias. We have also helped determine genetic factors that predict and/or modify pathology.

Our current research is focused on how proteins identified through these genetic studies are involved in neurodegenerative processes. Furthermore, we are looking at whether we can detect evidence of these, or other surrogate biomarkers, for the different underlying pathologies in the blood of patients with frontotemporal dementia.

Frontier is also a part of the Brain and Mind Centre’s ForeFront Ageing and Neurodegeneration Team. We are Australia’s first frontotemporal dementia research group focused on the neurological, physiological and biological brain function in FTD, as well as how the disease impacts the lives of patients and their families.

Individuals over the age of 65 years represent the fastest growing segment of the general population. This rise is accompanied by an increase in dementia cases. Dementia is a major cause of dependency, increased health care costs and early death.

Identification of people at risk of dementia early in the course of the disease is critical. The overarching objective of our research is to characterise the changes in cognition that represent early indicators of progressive neurodegenerative brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia, and to define their biological significance. We are working towards earlier diagnosis, diagnosis accuracy and improving care and management for patients.

Greater diagnostic reliability across these disorders and better comparison between changes that reflect age-related (or “healthy”) ageing will lead to comprehensive biological-cognitive models of disease presentation and progression. This research is achieved by using a convergence of clinical and experimental cognitive tests combined with structural and functional neuroimaging approaches.

Led by Professors John Hodges and Olivier Piguet, the Frontier team is currently focused on:

  • apathy in dementia
  • social cognition and memory changes in FTD
  • progression of structural and functional brain changes in FTD
  • metabolic changes in FTD
  • severity rating scales – how FTD symptoms change over time
  • neuropathology in FTD – cellular changes 
  • clinical, imaging and biological markers for early disease identification
  • genetics
  • cognition in motor neurone disease, a condition closely related to FTD
  • the impact of FTD on those living with the condition, their carers and family members
  • developing effective support interventions for carers and families.

We have developed a range of tests to help clinicians accurately assess cognitive function and diagnose frontotemporal dementia in patients, such as the ACE-III and the Frontier Executive Screen test. Access the tests here.

Guidelines for the remote administration of the Addenbrooke's Cognitive Examination-III (ACE-III) test are now available. Version A of the Australian and UK forms have also been adapted and available here.

If you would like to know when these tests are updated or changed, please email us so we can keep you informed.

Information for Carers

We have a wealth of information to help families and carers of people with FTD. We share various resources via Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Dementia Australia also offers information, advice and support options for people living with any type of dementia and their families and carers.

We encourage families to contact the Australian Frontotemporal Dementia Association (AFTDA). The association seeks to educate physicians and other health professionals on FTD and raise general public awareness of the condition. We also encourage families to visit the American Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration website which also provides information for those living with FTD, their carers, professionals, and the general public.

Additional resources for carers can be found here.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Patient-centred research closely integrates our dementia and movement disorders lab with clinical research

Our Dementia and Movement Disorders Lab, led by Professor Glenda Halliday, is focused on assessing biomarkers, genes and pathological progression in dementias.

In particular, the laboratory is known for its work on dementia with Lewy bodies (abnormal protein aggregates that develop inside nerve cells). We were the first laboratory to highlight the association between Lewy body deposition and visual hallucinations, rather than a loss of function, and aspects of our studies have been incorporated into current research criteria for the diagnosis of this disorder.

We are now focused on the multiple pathologies associated with this dementia syndrome and how genetic factors influence these pathologies.

The Clinical Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia with Lewy Bodies Research Group, led by Professor Simon Lewis, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy Bodies and related disorders, and ultimately, to finding a cure for these diseases.

Familial Dementia Program

The familial dementia program focuses on determining the risk factors of younger onset neurological disorders.

The risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease is a major concern for families of affected people, particularly those with younger onset (<65 years). This is because a younger onset is considered to be almost entirely due to genetic factors, either Mendelian or polygenic, with variably high heritability.

Due to the considerable heterogeneity and overlap of clinical phenotypes in these families, this program, led by Professor Clement Loy applies new methods of gene testing, providing a specialist research program for families with adult-onset neurodegenerative diseases.

The aim is to provide basic diagnostic testing to enhance knowledge on these diseases and increase the capacity for therapeutic translation for neurodegeneration.

Sydney Dementia Network

Our researchers are part of a broad network of dementia researchers, clinicians and carers collaboratively working towards reducing the burden of dementia within NSW.

The Sydney Dementia Network, launched in 2018, seeks to unite dementia researchers, clinicians, carers and patients to accelerate the focus on dementia research within NSW.

Led by Professors Glenda HallidaySharon NaismithClement Loy and Dr Fiona Kumfor, the Network has progressed to ensure improved outcomes for patients while providing opportunities and resources from researchers and clinicians across NSW in prevention, treatment and care of dementia.

Our work includes collaborations with key researchers, clinicians, health organisations and government bodies to discuss current research efforts, the future of dementia in NSW and workshop how to improve outcomes. Below are some of our collaborations, events and initiatives from the Network so far.