Funding: London scientists key players in national dementia strategy

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Researchers in London have been awarded $1.345 million over five years through the second phase of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), announced as part of Canada’s national dementia strategy. CCNA is a collaborative research program tackling the challenge of dementia and other neurodegenerative illnesses. 

Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso, Associate Professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute, is world renowned for his findings on the relationship between cognition and mobility in the elderly, and gait as a predictor of frailty and dementia. He leads the Mobility, Exercise and Cognition (MEC) Team in London, comprised of top researchers in the areas of mobility, exercise and brain health.

“Evidence from other countries with national dementia strategies shows that coordinated, targeted efforts at the national level improves results for all aspects of dementia care and also for research,” says Dr. Montero-Odasso, also a geriatrician and Director of the Gait and Brain Lab at Parkwood Institute, a part of St. Joseph’s Health Care London. 

CCNA was purpose-built to synergize dementia research within the Canadian context. Phase I saw the creation of infrastructure fostering collaboration amongst Canadian researchers, and there are now 20 teams built around important research topics. 

“This kind of effective national collaboration by scientists and clinicians from many disciplines gives the CCNA a cutting edge in research, prevention, treatment and management of all forms of dementia,” explains Dr. Montero-Odasso. “We created a national network of researchers form west to east coast with a high level of expertise to deliver lifestyle interventions to improve cognition and slow down progression to dementia. I feel privileged working with such excellent investigators and leading this important endeavour locally.” 

The MEC team has several projects in the works, but the majority of the new funding is to complete the SYNERGIC Trial, SYNchronizing Exercises and Remedies on Gait and Cognition. 

This first-in-the-world clinical study is testing a triple intervention aimed at treating Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and delaying the onset of dementia. The SYNERGICTrial incorporates physical exercises and cognitive training, along with vitamin D supplementation to determine the best treatment for improving mobility and cognition. 

“We are looking at how interventions will work together and targeting cognitive decline at its earliest stage – individuals with MIC,” explains Dr. Montero-Odasso. “Both physical and cognitive exercises have shown promising effects for maintaining cognition, while vitamin D deficiency is associated with cognitive decline.” 

Dr. Montero-Odasso partners with researchers from across the city including Dr. Rob Bartha, imaging scientist at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Robarts Research Institute at Western University, and Dr. Kevin Schoemaker who leads the Laboratory for Brain and Heart Health. 

Study participants in the SYNERGIC Trial are asked to complete an individualized and progressive routine of exercises and cognitive training three times a week for six months, with one final assessment at 12 months. The main site for the study is Parkwood Institute with the physical exercises taking place at the Labatt Health Sciences Building on the Western campus.

“Our preliminary analysis is giving us a strong indication that a multimodal approach, combining physical exercise, cognitive training and supplementation, has a synergistic effect. It seems the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” says Dr. Montero-Odasso. 

To date, 138 research patients has been recruited across multiple sites in Canada. Individuals over 60 years old with mild cognitive impairment without dementia are eligible for this clinical trial. Those interested in participating are encouraged to contact a Lawson research coordinator at 519-685-4292 ext. 42910. 

Dr. Montero-Odasso adds that “as our population ages, a comprehensive strategy is vital to ensure the growing number of those living with dementia receive the care and support they deserve. Over half a million Canadians are currently living with dementia. By 2031, this number is expected to nearly double.” More than one third of dementia cases might be preventable. 

‘In CCNA’s Phase II, researchers are working on analyzing the overall health of every patient in a large clinical cohort study, COMPASS-ND. This information will be used to enhance understanding of how changes in the brain affect dementia severity and ways to reduce and prevent this through lifestyle changes. Lawson is the leading recruitment site for COMPASS-ND and the London team will be instrumental in the larger lifestyle interventions moving forward.

CCNA is funded by the Government of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and other funding partners.