Associate Professor Anna King's is Associate Director (Research) for the Wicking Centre and is an NHMRC National Institute of Dementia Research Boosting Dementia Leadership Research Fellow. Her background is in molecular cell biology and neuroscience and her research focuses on investigating the neurodegenerative diseases of ageing, including frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer's disease and motor neuron disease. She is particularly interested in determining the mechanisms by which the connections between nerve cells are lost in the brain, how this contributes to the clinical symptoms of dementia, and finding biomarkers that can detect these changes in the people.
How did you first begin working with the Wicking Dementia Centre?
I have been at the Wicking Centre since it first formed. I had just finished my PhD and was successful in getting a competitive fellowship when I heard that the Centre was to be established. The concept of the multidisciplinary centre sounded interesting to me so I decided to work with the group. I was really the centre's first postdoctoral research fellow. I have seen the development of the centre from those first days of bringing together a multidisciplinary team who struggled to understand their role in each others work, to what it is today, a buzzing innovative team with a drive to address a common goal.
What are the current research projects you are working on?
I am involved in many projects at the Wicking Centre as it is my nature to be side-tracked into anything interesting! My own research centres around trying to preserve cognitive function during ageing and in dementia. A key focus for me as a cellular neuroscientist is to find new targets to prevent the degeneration of nerve cells, as this is what causes cognitive decline in dementia. We can only do this by understanding what is happening to the nerve cells at a cellular level. One part of the nerve cell that is often ignored is the long nerve process, or axon, which forms the connections in the nervous system. We are looking for ways that can protect these vulnerable structures, either through preventative measures or drug treatments, so that the nervous system can keep functioning. Another important part of this research is to look for “biomarkers” in the blood. Because we can’t see inside people’s brains, we aim to develop a blood test that can tell us what is happening to the nerve cells. This is important so that we can understand whether treatments are working and when people are at risk of cognitive decline and may need interventions.
What are you hoping to achieve in 2019?
In my role as facilitator of research for the Wicking Centre my goal for 2019 is to further enable and promote the research across the whole team. The centre is at a pivotal point for initiating some ambitious large-scale projects where we will test health interventions to determine whether we can make a change in development of cognitive decline and dementia at the population level. The projects which are being led by talented teams of researchers, will bring together much of the research that we have been working towards over the past 10 years and will open up opportunities for more focused studies on some of the dementia risk factors that there is less evidence for. It’s an exciting time for the Wicking Centre in terms of its research strategy and a goal for 2019 would be to see some strong engagement with community, formation of new collaborations, the successful initiation of these projects as well as the seeding of new multidisciplinary projects that will ultimately contribute to our knowledge about how we can reduce risk of cognitive decline in the population. In addition to this, as part of the team organizing the next Australian Dementia Forum (ADF2019), I hope to welcome a number of international and national visitors to Hobart in June next year to look at the impact that research has had over the past 5 years and look to the future for where we need to head to make a difference in the lives of people living with the impact of dementia.