Alzheimer's disease Mental health Research

Advancing Alzheimer’s research

Image of brains on a screen

It’s estimated more than 600,000 people in Canada are living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to more than 1.7 million, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

Despite the statistics, innovative research is underway at Sunnybrook to help bring hope to the fight against Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“We may be entering a new era with possible effective treatments for this disorder which affects whole families and is increasingly prevalent with populations aging,” says Dr. Sandra Black, director of the Dr. Sandra Black Centre for Brain Resilience and Recovery. “Continued research is critical as we aim to develop and discover meaningful treatments and prevention strategies for Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

Here are just some of the innovative ways that Sunnybrook clinicians and researchers are on the leading edge of research in the detection, prevention, and treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Apathy and Agitation in Alzheimer’s

At Sunnybrook, clinical studies are underway on apathy and agitation in Alzheimer’s patients, where researchers are exploring ways to help decrease apathy in patients. This can help increase their interest in activities and their emotional responsiveness, which may help improve their quality of life, as well as their caregivers’.

Early on-set dementia

In a world-first study, a team of Sunnybrook scientists are trying to identify biomarkers, or biological clues in the brain, such as blood flow, that could demonstrate an early-onset frontotemporal dementia in people who have a genetic predisposition to the disease.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sunnybrook Hospital (@sunnybrook)

Innovative technology

Researchers are also looking for innovative ways to deliver medicine or therapeutics directly to the areas of the brain involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

Preclinical research is exploring the delivery of gene therapy to treat Alzheimer’s and help improve memory and boost brain health.

One of those methods uses focused ultrasound technology, where ultrasound waves are precisely directed to a targeted area of the brain to help open the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which can allow potentially helpful medications to reach brain regions involved in Alzheimer’s and dementia, without having to use scalpels. Research teams have shown evidence that the BBB can be temporarily opened safely using focused ultrasound, an exciting first step in exploring a new way for therapeutics to be delivered to the brain.

Who will get Alzheimer’s disease?

Sunnybrook scientists are also using artificial intelligence and machine learning to try and detect early signs and symptoms of dementia to improve treatment and prevention of the disease.

Research is also underway to learn more about risk factors for dementia among diverse ethnic groups including individuals of South Asian and Chinese descent, as these groups are often under-represented in dementia studies.

The latest Sunnybrook research has also demonstrated that having poor vascular health may accelerate cognitive decline in patients with dementia and small vessel disease.

Preventing Alzheimer’s

Researchers are finding out how lifestyle can protect individuals from dementia.

While it is critical for cutting edge studies to continue in the search for new treatment and care for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, it can also be helpful for individuals to take action themselves to learn more about dementia and how activity can help boost brain health in more ways than one.

From prevention to diagnostics and potential treatment innovations, “We’re at the forefront of discovery for dementia and Alzheimer’s at Sunnybrook,” says Dr. Black. “There’s a lot to be optimistic about.”

Hear Sunnybrook experts discuss how your lifestyle can protect you from dementia and learn more about interventions that might prevent or delay the disease in our recent Speaker Series: An Evening Discussion on Dementia.

About the author