Wanted: thousands of saliva samples to help stave off dementia

LICKING a stamp is as close as most people get to posting their own spit, but thousands of saliva samples will soon be sent to Melbourne in the name of science.

While dementia is typically seen as an infliction on old people, scientists now believe there are risk factors in middle age that may increase the chance of developing the disease later in life.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, up to 6000 Australians aged 40-65 will be tracked over a period of five years to help understand what is driving changes in the brain.

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and University of Melbourne study will be conducted online using surveys and tasks to track memory, thinking, lifestyle, mood, sleep and biological changes over time.

The neuroscientists want to understand why some people develop dementia and others don’t in a bid to develop better ways to prevent it- — whether that be lifestyle changes or new drugs.

Research fellow Yen Ying Lim said the saliva samples will be used to test for genes that they believe may be involved in brain plasticity, memory and thinking.

“We want to look at what genetic risk factors that are involved in Alzheimer’s disease, by identifying these genes it provides us with a first clue into underlying biological mechanisms that are driving cognitive decline.”

She said a person's risk of developing dementia may be a combination of genetics and lifestyle.

“This study will give us an understanding of who is at risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the future and which factors contribute to that risk,” she said.

“If they are modifiable, such as exercise or diet, it then forms a powerful basis for the basis of clinical trials that look at modifying those interventions in people.”

The Healthy Brain Project will also provide participants with insight into the latest research findings in the field.

More than 400,000 Australians are living with dementia, a figure that is expected to blow out to more than one million by 2056 without a medical breakthrough.

For information about the trial: healthybrainproject.org.au or 0477 890 908.

Lucie van den Berg, Exclusive, Herald Sun