Dementia put to the test

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SOUTHLAND’s exports are generally pretty well regarded.

There’s the Bluff oyster, and there is also the agriculture industry.

In Hobart, Australia, there is another Southland product standing out at the moment. His name – Brad Sutherland.

The 1999 Southland Boys’ High School head boy has established himself as a well-regarded medical researcher who the Australian government hand-picked in the hope to help get to the bottom of dementia.

Dementia is a broad category of brain diseases which cause a long-term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember.

In 2014 the Australian government unveiled a plan to pour $200 million into tackling dementia.

With life expectancy increasing, the number of people developing dementia was also increasing, Mr Sutherland said.

“It’s a terrible disease. My great grandmother had it,” he said.

As part of the Australian government’s investment, Mr Sutherland has been awarded $717,000 to look at Alzheimer’s disease.

His grant was one of the 32 National Health and Medical Research Council Boosting Dementia Research Fellowships awarded.

It has allowed Mr Sutherland to employ a research assistant, while students at the University of Tasmania also provide help.

Mr Sutherland said a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease could be narrowing of small blood vessels, capillaries, within the brain, limiting blood flow and energy supply.

“Pericytes, a cell only on capillaries, maintain blood flow throughout the brain. I believe that pericytes may die in Alzheimer’s disease leading to an energy deficit and memory problems,” Mr Sutherland said.

“I will test using human brains and animal models whether pericyte loss causes Alzheimer’s and how this is happening. Pericytes could provide a new therapy option for Alzheimer’s.”

Mr Sutherland said the ideal result would be to identify a potential drug which could help increase those oxygen and energy levels in the brain to help offset Alzheimer’s.

As a boy growing up in Invercargill, the former Southland cricket representative never imagined one day he would be living in Hobart and dedicating his time to looking into ways to tackle Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s funny, when I got to Otago Uni I didn’t really have an idea what I wanted to do. Even when I ended up teaching there I still wasn’t sure. But I did enjoy the research side of it, and it has gone from there.”

After leaving Invercargill, Dr Sutherland’s fascinating journey started at the Otago University in 2000 on his way to completing his PhD.

He studied stroke, research which is personal for Mr Sutherland considering his grandfather died of the disease.

After his time in Dunedin, the next step was a job at the University of Oxford in London, where the research into stroke continued.

In 2016, Mr Sutherland and his young family made another move, this time to the University of Tasmania where he is now taking the next step in his career.

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