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Diversity in dementia research vital, expert says

Greater support is needed for diverse and outside-the-box approaches to researching dementia causes and treatments, a leading expert has said.

Speaking at the National Dementia Congress taking place in Melbourne last week, Dr Bryce Vissel – head of neurodegeneration research at the Garvan Institute – told delegates that whilst there was good reason for scientists’ broad focus on the role of amyloids in dementia, other approaches and factors in need of exploration risked being crowded out.

A key example of this, Vissel said, was the ongoing sense of competitiveness between researchers exploring amyloids and those looking into the possible role of tau tangles in the development of Alzheimer’s.

Compounding this, he added, was the weighty workloads of researchers and the constant need to be published as they seek further grants.

Vissel argued that, as a result, researchers needed to make a conscious effort to ensure they were not discounting or failing to absorb information that might come from outside their own sphere of work or expertise. He said despite the recent publication of the failure rate of many trials  – many focused on the role of amyloids – there was enough evidence to continue to tweak approaches rather than completely change tack.

He added that despite the challenges limiting funding for Australian research, such as the reduced involvement of pharmaceutical companies, local experts were vital in making breakthroughs, as well as adapting, furthering and implementing the best developments from overseas.

“Communication between scientists [globally] in this area is great and there is a real sense of community within the research sector. There is a little bit of competition of course,” Vissel said. “But at the same time, the publish-or-perish imperative ensures that we are sharing our knowledge.”

In closing, Vissel also highlighted the vital role of community groups played in driving the research agenda, often led by individuals seeking improvements due to personal experience.

Whilst the NHMRC played the most important role in guiding the direction of research funding, Vissel explained, outside-the-box thinking coming from community-led groups – backed by scientific knowledge – had contributed to breakthroughs.

Listen to hear an extended interview between Vissel and health editor Dallas Bastian:

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