Social Functioning Modelling

Addressing the gaps in social functioning in neurodegeneration.
Our team brings together world leaders in their research to improve social functioning disturbances in patients developing or with neurodegenerative disorders.

About our research:

Social functioning or social impairment is more prevalent in people developing or who have neurodegenerative disorders. Not only does it affect the patient, but adds to the economic burden, impacting the quality of life of patients and their informal carers, and loss of functional and professional independence.

This is particularly apparent in frontotemporal dementia (FTD) where healthcare costs are much higher than in Alzheimer’s disease. The younger age of onset for FTD makes the development of targeted treatments more challenging. 

Our research focuses on addressing these gaps and driving the implementation of new research into real-world practice. Our objective is to develop novel prognostic tools, improve early diagnosis, and develop new treatments that are more sensitive and accurate, with the aid and implementation of biological disease biomarkers, which are still missing.

Our Approach:

Currently, it takes between 2-4.5 years on average to get an accurate diagnosis for the causes of emerging social functioning (SF) disturbances in adulthood. Our work of the past 15 years has contributed to improving the phenomenology of the early manifestations of social functioning disturbances during the lifespan. Our work in younger-onset dementia has informed gold standard diagnostic criteria, however there is still more work to be done across clinical and pathological presentations.

Our program of research aims to collect longitudinal data (clinical, cognitive, behaviour, neuroimaging, biomarkers) to establish comprehensive disease profiles that can inform disease progression and related treatments.

In recent years, we have developed a range of clinical tests and interventions to target some of the most debilitating aspects of social functioning dysfunctions (e.g. behavioural disinhibition, apathy, loss of empathy), which have resulted in earlier diagnosis and improved quality of life for patients and their families. We are also involved in international pharma-led clinical trials.

Demonstrating the health and economic benefits of these tools, as well as developing them for translation and implementation into the health system is a pressing need.

Our research is at the forefront of new knowledge while influencing clinical practice in Australia. Our integrated multi-disciplinary approach will further support the next generation of researchers and clinicians from disciplines spanning basic science, engineering, cognition, neuroimaging to carer support.

Our Current Projects:

Our extensive repositories of (e.g. younger-onset dementias, autism spectrum disorders) comprehensive clinical, biological, neuroimaging, and genetic information, will accelerate discoveries in this area, including development of new biomarkers, improving disease classification and prognostic projection. 

Leveraging innovative technologies (e.g., engineering, AI, -omics) for our patient-centred focused research will improve management and enhance quality of life for people with social functioning disturbances. We will also expand our support interventions for carers (education, management of SF deficits) at distinct stages of disease severity.