Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre

Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre

Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre

The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre was established as a collaboration between founding partners WEHI and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and made possible thanks to a generous $15 million commitment from the Colonial Foundation.

 

Our work: An early blood test for dementia

The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre has a single focus – to design and develop the first blood test to diagnose dementia. The test will diagnose dementia at an early stage, when more can be done to stop or slow the progression of the disease.

Over the five-year term of the centre, we will use cutting-edge technology and bioinformatic tools to analyse more than 20,000 human samples with the aim of identifying a dementia signature. With clinical pathologists at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH), we will validate biomarkers with the goal of developing pathology tests for the early detection of dementia. A diagnostic test will also help to:

  • monitor disease progression
  • monitor treatment response
  • assist clinicians in prescribing targeted interventions
  • better understand familial risk.

 

Diagram depicting collaboration between WEHI and RMH personell
The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre was established as a collaboration between founding partners WEHI and the Royal Melbourne Hospital to develop an early diagnosis of dementia

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The problem

Dementia is a complex and growing health problem. It is a progressive neurological condition that will touch many of our lives. Living with dementia can profoundly impact a person’s quality of life, and families acting as carers.

Despite dementia being the second leading cause of death in Australia, research continues to be underfunded. Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people living with dementia is expected to more than double by 2050.

Dementia research has so far failed to deliver life-changing benefits for individuals and the community in the same way that new treatments for cancer or heart disease have.

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The solution

We urgently need new and better ways to diagnose dementia. These solutions must take advantage of the most advanced technologies available while being accurate, cost-effective and practical enough to be widely used.

The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre has:

  • A collaborative vision to bring together the best and brightest minds to tackle one of the biggest global health crises.
  • A different approach, using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry technology to find complex disease signatures that will enable early detection of dementia. 
  • A unique network of medical researchers, clinicians, neuropsychiatrists, pathologists, patient advocacy groups and philanthropists, working together to make this vision a reality.

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Our goals

Stage 1 iconStage 1: Discover biomarkers

We are generating proteomic and metabolic data to identify a biomarker or panel of biomarkers that could be used to detect and diagnose dementia.

Stage 2 iconStage 2: Develop assays for emerging biomarkers

The centre is developing immunoassays for ultrasensitive detection of blood biomarkers for dementia.

Stage 3 iconStage 3: Implement tests in pathology labs

We are addressing the challenges of implementing powerful mass spectrometry-based tools for diagnostics, to produce an accredited pathology test for the early detection of dementia.

Stage 4 icon

Stage 4: Conduct patient data-driven research

We are investigating Parkinson's disease biomarkers and optimising tools for biomarker discovery. 

 

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Our collaborators

Collaborator logos

Who we are

 

Photo of A/Prof Andrew WebbAssociate Professor Andrew Webb
Andrew is Head of the Proteomics Laboratory at WEHI and Head of the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre. His work includes applying the latest proteomics methods to understand how changes in proteins in our body influence health and disease, including cancers, infectious diseases and neurodegenerative conditions including dementia.

 

Photo of Prof Frank BowlingProfessor Frank Bowling

Frank is the former Director of Pathology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and has been instrumental in establishing the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre as a partnership between WEHI and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. 

Frank is a member of the National Pathology Accreditation Advisory Council (NPAAC) and an assessor of pathology laboratories for NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities). His work includes translational research, pathology services and laboratory medicine in the fields of genomics, proteomics and metabolomics.

 

Photo of A/Prof Cherie ChiangAssociate Professor Cherie Chiang
Cherie is Head of Chemical Pathology at RMH and a qualified endocrinologist and chemical pathologist, with joint appointments at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Austin Hospital. Her research includes validating new mass spectrometry technology to measure drug levels and to identify drugs in urine during presentations of unknown drug overdose.

The Centre brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers, clinicians and pathologists who are highly skilled in proteomics technologies, data analysis and clinical assay development.

Group photo of 11 researchers from the CFHAC team
Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre research team. 
From left to right: Dr Steve Binos, Dr Mustafa Ayha, Sukhdeep Spall, Dr Jeffrey Smith, A/Prof Andrew Webb, Dr Nadja Bertleff-Zieschang,
Dr Ahmed Mohamed, A/Prof Cherie Chiang, Dr Sylvie Callegari, Kruti Patel, Julian Kelabora. 
Not pictured: Dolores Arenas Cavero, Dr Joel Smith, Dr Simon Cobbold. 

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Our research projects

The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre has a single focus – to develop new and better ways to diagnose and treat dementia. The five-year centre will:
  1. Discover biomarkers

    Together with the ASPREE team at Monash University, we are generating proteomic and metabolic data to identify a biomarker or panel of biomarkers that could be used to detect and diagnose dementia.

    The centre uses an approach called mass spectrometry (MS)-based proteomics to study – in unprecedented detail and complexity – the nature of healthy ageing and disease.

    We are creating the technology needed to undertake this work; the first step in this ambitious program. We will use this technology to analyse blood and urine samples from 12,000 healthy individuals collected from the ASPREE study over more than a decade. More than 1000 people in this study have since been diagnosed with dementia, giving us an unparalleled opportunity to identify early signs of dementia.

    Project team

    • Dolores Arenas Cavero
    • Dr Steve Binos
    • Julian Kelabora
    • Dr Ahmed Mohamed
    • Sukhdeep Spall
  2. Develop assays for emerging biomarkers

    The centre is developing immunoassays for ultrasensitive detection of blood biomarkers for dementia.

    The first candidate selected was the neurofilament light chain (NfL), a marker for neurological damage. We are collaborating with Professor Dennis Velakoulis and his team at The Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) Neuropsychiatry, who have extensive experience in clinical diagnosis of neurological disorders and clinical research into NfL.

    They demonstrated that NfL levels are elevated in plasma from patients with neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, both of which are associated with dementia. There is a strong and unmet clinical need for detection of NfL and other emerging biomarkers, and the focus of this work is to develop a robust and clinically suitable assay for use in routine pathology.

    Project team

    • Jeff Smith
    • Kruti Patel
  3. Implement tests in pathology labs

    Together with clinical pathologists at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, we will address the challenges of implementing these powerful tools for diagnostics, to produce an accredited pathology test for the early detection of dementia. In a first step, we are building mass spectrometry capacity and knowledge in Melbourne Health Pathology so that state-of-the-art technology can be translated to the clinic.

    Currently, work is continuing at RMH Pathology to increase the number of Therapeutic Drug Monitoring (TDM) tests developed on site and provided to clinicians and patients using cutting-edge mass spectrometry instrumentation. With hospital clinicians, a list of therapeutic drugs was compiled for which patient monitoring was a top priority. The first was the azole antifungals. The development and bioanalytical method validation is nearing completion and we anticipate routine testing for these antifungal drugs will begin early in 2022. Every routine diagnostic test that is developed on site will build mass spectrometry-based capability and knowledge within RMH to facilitate the validation and test implementation of the newer proteomics-based testing in the future.

    Project team

    • Dr Mustafa Ayhan
    • Dr Joel Smith
  4. Patient data-driven research

    The centre studies the hypothesis that selected proteins play a role in pathways leading to Parkinson's disease making them not only potential biomarker of disease, but also candidate drug targets.

    We also strive to optimise current sample purification protocols and mass spectrometry data analysis including artificial intelligence-assisted tools to increase sensitivity and identification of biomarker in our data.

    Project team

    • Dr Sylvie Callegari
    • Dr Simon Cobbold
    • Sukhdeep Spall
    • Daryl Wilding-McBride

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Contact us

Enquiries can be sent to Dr Nadja Bertleff-Zieschang, Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre Manager.

Professor Doug Hilton and Professor Christine Kilpatrick

The grant will enable a new research program – led by researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and The Royal Melbourne Hospital – to develop diagnostic tests for the early detection of dementia in people as young as 40.

Side-by-side images of Cherie Chiang and Andrew Webb

WEHI’s Associate Professor Andrew Webb and the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Associate Professor Cherie Chiang are developing an early diagnosis test for dementia at the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre.

Microscopic image of a neuron

Our scientists are working to improve the detection of neurodegenerative conditions that cause dementia.

Associate Professor Rosie Watson at WEHI

Associate Professor Rosie Watson, clinician at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and joint laboratory head at WEHI, has received $1.2 million in federal government funding as Chief Investigator on an international project aimed at improving outcomes in dementia. 

Associate Professor Rosie Watson at WEHI

Associate Professor Rosie Watson describes her work to develop a blood test to improve the clinical diagnosis of dementia.