BRNZ Co-Director Professor Cliff Abraham interviewed on TV about $5m Alzheimer's research grant

21 July 2016

Alzheimer’s disease is a huge problem in our ageing society and is the most expensive disease in New Zealand. And yet despite the tsunami of Alzheimer’s prevalence in the ageing population, there are many reasons to be optimistic about Alzheimer’s research in New Zealand. Co-Director of Brain Research New Zealand Professor Cliff Abraham is part of a burgeoning team of more than five research labs in biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacy and psychology and thirty people.

With a funding grant of almost 5 million over five years, the extensive research being done in New Zealand is leading to exciting seismic shifts in Alzheimer’s research. In this news interview, Professor Abraham reveals why it’s not a case of if researchers can find a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a case of when. 

BRNZ_Cliff Abraham

Professor Cliff Abraham interview transcript

My research is based upon three pillars. One is the nerve mechanisms of memory and how nerve cells actually do that, store memory. Secondly analysing  the proteins and molecules actually involved in that. And finally, do these proteins and molecules have therapeutic potential in disorders when there is memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Is this a continue in work that you’ve already started

I’ve been interested in memory mechanisms all of my career. In the last twelve or so years, we’ve been targeting research towards whether or not there is therapeutic potential with what we have been finding out. We have a particular interest in Alzheimer’s disease.

You have received a $5m grant, how much will that help you?

It’s absolutely vital, we’re really grateful to the Health Research Council. We wouldn’t be able to continue without this funding. It’s really provided a platform to send out these new ideas that we have.

How many years will it last?

This grant is for five years. We have quite a few objectives across many labs that this money will be used for.

How many people are involved in the project?

This is a team effort. It’s based around the efforts of five main research labs in biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacy and psychology. Across these labs between research students, researchers and staff, we have about 30 people that we have lined up to work on these projects

What’s first cab off the rank?

We have three main objectives. Alzheimer’s is a very difficult and complex disorder and we still don’t know enough about it. We need to know more about the molecules involved, and the changes in the brain that are occurring. We are looking at post-mortem tissue of people and also bloods from people with Alzheimer’s disease. That gives us a hint, a window into what’s happening in the brain.

The other problem is we don’t have good enough models of the disease to test new therapies on. We have novel ideas about generating models of the disease, that we can then test our therapeutic ideas on. We will be able to test them in our new models of the disease.

How complex is that research?

The disease itself is extremely complex, that’s why we’re still not very far along with treating the disease. You have to be very focused with what you’re undertaking. It’s a very complex process in terms of the kind of research because it’s a very complex disease. It takes lot of work from people with different skills in different departments, my colleagues bring together everything that’s necessary to treat this disorder.

The issue of Alzheimer’s is worldwide. Researchers from all over the planet are working on the problem. The fact that we are just inching along indiciates the complexity. But we think we have some specific new ideas that will make real progress, we hope in understanding and treating the disease. We think we have an advantage in the particular ideas that we are bringing to the table.

Why is Alzheimer’s disease interesting to you?

For a start, I’ve had a long standing interest in memory, the understanding that there are diseases that are particularly associated with memory loss has come to my attention over the years. So it’s been an easy transition to go from the basic mechanisms into applied research. It’s a huge problem in society. There’s a wave of prevalence for the disease that is coming. It’s a major issue that needs as much effort that we can put into it. It is the most expensive disease in New Zealand. 

Watch Professor Abraham talk about BRNZ's Alzheimer's research on the news