National News

Dementia trials on humans in Queensland

Australian dementia sufferers could have their memories restored if a Queensland trial of a breakthrough ultrasound technique proves successful in humans.

The technology removes toxic plaques from the brain and has successfully reversed Alzheimer's symptoms and restored memory function in animal models at the University of Queensland's Brain Institute.

Professor Jurgen Gotz says researchers using ultrasound have been able to activate microglial cells, which he describes as "kind of garbage men" that go through the brain removing all the toxic things that float around.

"When you look into an Alzheimer's brain, the brain is full of toxic amyloid and normally these garbage men should do their job," he told AAP on Tuesday.

"But sometimes they don't it," he said.

So with the ultrasound the scientists trigger them to do their job and then they remove the amyloid and at the same time restore memory function.

Prof Gotz says the technique is not a full cure for the disease.

But researchers hope that once it is further developed, the method will allow plaque to be removed for about three years before another treatment is required.

"We will push out the age at which Alzheimer would develop, which effectively means for a patient it could feel like a cure," he said.

"When used at a stage when the (disease) is not too advanced ... Alzheimer disease can be prevented even in people who are predisposed."

Testing of the pioneering ultrasound technique will begin in Brisbane in late 2019 following a federal government grant of $10 million, which was announced on Tuesday.

The trial will involve a small number of patients and will explore whether the technique developed at UQ in 2015 is safe to use in the fight against the degenerative condition.

Alzheimer's disease affects more than 350,000 people nationwide.

UQ says that without a medical breakthrough, the number of Australians living with the disease is expected to increase to almost 1.1 million by 2056, bringing the cost of hospitalisation, care and lost productivity to more than $1 trillion.

© AAP 2018