Can Good Sleep Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

Stephanie Rainey-Smith, PhD
Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia)

Mentors

Ralph N. Martins, PhD
Edith Cowen University (Perth, Australia)

Collaborators

Melissa Ree, PhD
The Marian Centre (Wembley, Australia)
Peter Eastwood, PhD
University of Western Australia (Perth, Australia)
Hamid R. Sohrabi, PhD
Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia)
Victor L. Villemagne, MD
Austin Health (Heidelberg, Australia)
Year Awarded:
2018
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2020
Disease:
Alzheimer's Disease
Award Amount:
$149,998
Grant Reference ID:
A2018402F
Award Type:
Postdoctoral Fellowship
Award Region:
International

Improving Sleep to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease

Summary

This study will explore the relationship between sleep, memory and thinking, and changes in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by investigating whether improved sleep (better and longer) causes better memory and thinking, slower protein build up in the brain and slows the shrinking of the brain. The results will help us find a way to slow or stop this horrible disease. With sleep problems reported in 60 percent of adults over 65, my research will impact a significant proportion of the population.

Details

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a terrible illness which damages the brain of many older people, causing them to stop thinking clearly; to stop remembering important information about themselves, their family and their life; and to start behaving differently. These problems get so bad that daily tasks such as driving, reading, or finding the right words when speaking to someone become very difficult or impossible. We know that a particular protein builds up in the brain of a person with AD and that the brain becomes smaller, but we don’t know how to slow or stop the disease. Some scientists believe that sleep is important, but more work is needed to understand whether ‘how long’ and ‘how well’ someone usually sleeps changes how likely they are to get AD, or alters the speed at which the changes in the brain happen. My study will explore the relationship between sleep, memory and thinking, and changes in the brain, by investigating whether improved sleep (better and longer) causes improved memory and thinking, slower protein build up in the brain and slows the shrinking of the brain. Once complete, I hope that the results of my study will provide evidence for translation into a standard therapy for older adults at increased risk of AD due to sleep complaints. 

About the Researcher

Stephanie was awarded a PhD in neuroscience from King’s College London in 2010. Continuing her work in the area of neurodegenerative diseases, in October 2010, Stephanie joined Professor Ralph Martins’ team in the Centre of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Care, based at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Western Australia. Stephanie plays a lead role in the Clinical and Preventative Strategies group at ECU, working with researchers nationally and internationally to investigate lifestyle factors such as sleep, diet, and physical activity as potential preventative and therapeutic interventions for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). As evidenced by her publication track record, Stephanie employs multidisciplinary research approaches to identify lifestyle factors which impact upon cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s-related pathology. Stephanie also coordinates the West Australian arm of the internationally acclaimed Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) Study of Ageing, and plays a leading research role in the Lifestyle stream of AIBL, working closely with other researchers in Western Australia and the eastern states of Australia, as well as internationally, to explore the relationship of sleep, diet and physical activity with healthy aging and AD.

Personal Story

Science was always my favourite subject at school, and it became obvious to me, at university, that I was particularly fascinated by neuroscience. A spell working in a lab setting as an intern 'sealed the deal' for me, and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career working in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. I was the recipient of a competitive Motor Neurone Disease Association-funded postgraduate research scholarship which enabled me to undertake a PhD in this field. Whilst my PhD focused on motor neurone disease, I was part of a lab where Alzheimer's disease (AD) was also a research focus, and soon after completion of my PhD, I side-stepped into the Alzheimer's research field. My passion for research has led me around the world to pursue the topics that I currently work on. I have driven research investigating lifestyle factors such as sleep, diet, and physical activity as potential preventative and therapeutic interventions for AD, which has led to multiple publications, and supervision of PhD student projects in lifestyle and biomarker research. All of which has directed me to the current project: Improving sleep to prevent AD. This project will allow me to integrate the multiple areas of my research and technical expertise, and provide a perfect synergy between my existing research expertise and my planned “next step” – specifically, the holistic integration of objective, well-supported lifestyle factors associated with AD, and biomarker research, which provides promise for clearer measurement of the effectiveness of future interventions aimed at altering these lifestyle risk factors. I am extremely grateful to the BrightFocus Foundation donors for their generous support, without which I would be unable to pursue this research project.

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