The search is on for two talented students to contribute to a major international collaboration that will accelerate research into the use of eye scans to identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Prestigious PhD scholarships from two of the world’s leading universities are on offer to support the researchers.
A major clinical challenge in dementia care is the accurate and timely detection of the disease. Reliance on clinical features alone is problematic due to the overlap between dementia syndromes.
The project will provide opportunities for two talented students to contribute to the research, with generous PhD scholarship support. Uniquely, students will graduate with joint testamurs from the University of Melbourne and KU Leuven, two of the world’s leading universities
The BRAINSTORM consortium, led by Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden from Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), is uniting international experts in brain pathology and imaging, ophthalmology and artificial intelligence.
The group aims to use eye scans to accurately pinpoint early changes in the retina that suggest someone is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Associate Professor van Wijngaarden says researchers hope to develop an early detection method for people at risk of the disease, that will pave the way for new treatments and hopefully a cure.
“Changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease can occur up to 30 years before the onset of memory problems, and there is an increasing focus on treatments to prevent or delay the disease,” he said.
“But current tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease – like PET scans and lumbar punctures – are invasive, expensive and not suitable for widespread screening programs.
“Their limited availability makes testing of new treatments much more difficult and slows down research to find new therapies.
“Access to a simple, inexpensive and non- invasive eye test could allow us to determine who is most at risk, and completely transform our approach to diagnosing, preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease.”
BRAINSTORM unites scientists from CERA, KU Leuven University, Belgium and Umeå University, Sweden and collaborators from University College, London.
The Victorian Brain Bank at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and Lions Eye Donation Service will also be involved – providing tissues generously donated by people with Alzheimer’s disease and neuropathological diagnosis in an effort to advance the detection and treatment of the disease.
The team will be funded over the next three years by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the European Union’s Joint Programme in Neurodegenerative Disease Research.
Their support for the project recognises how international collaborations drive advances in health and medical research, accelerating progress by pooling skills and resources, and reducing duplication.
PhD Students Invited to Contribute
The project will provide opportunities for two talented PhD students to contribute to the research and receive joint testamurs from the University of Melbourne and KU Leuven.
The doctoral students will be enrolled and spend a minimum 12 months at each of The Universities of Melbourne and KU Leuven. During their time at University of Melbourne, they will examine whether retinal imaging can be used to detect other neuropathological processes, such as the accumulation of phosphorylated tau and alpha synuclein or TDP-43, that contribute to dementia. Additionally, the students will lead clinical imaging studies and learn state-of-the-art image analysis methods.
In Leuven they will have the opportunity to perform a validation clinical imaging study and undertake focused pre-clinical research to identify the basis of the identified biomarkers. This project draws on the collective strengths of the Melbourne and Leuven groups as global leaders in the discovery and clinical validation of retinal imaging biomarkers of neurodegenerative diseases.
The PhD students will have access to generous scholarship support, which includes tuition fee waivers, a full living allowance, health insurance and relocation support.
Ideal candidates will have a record of academic excellence in the fields of optometry, orthoptics, medicine or biomedicine. Prior research experience is not essential.
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