Changing the paradigms of Alzheimer’s research

Caroline Blackmore, Marcus Blackmore AM, Professor Bryce Vissel and Dr Dale Bredesen

Change-makers: Caroline Blackmore, Marcus Blackmore AM, Professor Bryce Vissel and Dr Dale Bredesen at Open Minded: Embracing new prespectives in Alzheimer's disease.

The vision to support visionaries in Alzheimer’s research: “There’s got to be a better way” – Marcus Blackmore AM

The challenge is immense, for government, society and science.

But “there’s an opportunity to do something,” said Marcus Blackmore AM, when asked what drove him to support an event promoting the need for different approaches to Alzheimer’s and dementia research.

Marcus and Caroline Blackmore, through Blackmore Foundation, proudly supported Open Minded: Embracing new perspectives in Alzheimer’s disease.

The event was hosted by the Centre for Neuroscience & Regenerative Medicine (CNRM), which is led by Professor Bryce Vissel, at UTS. It featured experts from Australia and the US, who engaged in an important discussion about adopting whole-of-person care and scientific innovation to improve outcomes for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

The free public event was overwhelmingly successful, selling out in less than two weeks. Almost 1000 people registered, and there were calls to bring the event to Victoria, WA and South Australia.

Professor Vissel said he was unsurprised by the extensive public engagement. “There’s no question that Alzheimer’s and dementia is frightening. Already the number-one cause of death of Australian women, virtually no family is unaffected by it.”

There are currently no effective treatments for disorders of memory, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For Marcus Blackmore, known for his eye on the future, the status quo couldn’t stand; rather, it represented a chance to make an impact for the benefit of society.

He discussed his commitment to the public good in an interview at the 2019 BioCeutical’s Research Symposium. “Alzheimer’s is the only disease that we’ve spent – not tens, but hundreds – if not billions, of dollars with absolutely no result.

Professor Bryce Vissel, Marcus Blackmore and Dr Dale Bredesen

"I took it on myself: I need to get these two guys together" - Marcus Blackmore AM (centre) on uniting original thinkers Professor Bryce Vissel (left) and Dr Dale Bredesen (right) for a discussion on new approaches to Alzheimer's research.

Our whole focus in 30 years has been the amyloid theory. It’s not to say that the amyloid theory is necessarily wrong, but (Bryce is saying) it’s not the cause. It’s only symptomatic of the cause.”

It was a chance meeting between Blackmore and Vissel at another UTS event which set the wheels in motion.

Marcus said, “My foundation made a donation to UTS for the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine.

At the UTS donor thank you event, a guy walked up to me and said ‘my name is Bryce Vissel, and I’m head of neuroscience here. I actually believe that nutrition has a significant role to play in the prevention and / or the treatment of Alzheimer’s.”

“I said to him 'I was trained as a naturopath – you’re not telling me anything.'”

But the two agreed to have lunch, and discussed the dire global state of Alzheimer’s research. Over the course of the meal, Blackmore was drawn to Vissel’s maverick approach. It was one thought-leader connecting with another. “I agreed with most of the things (Bryce) was talking about. He is a bit left-field.”

On a subsequent trip to a US conference of complementary medicines, Blackmore became impressed by another original thinker: Dale Bredesen MD, who wrote the best-selling book The End of Alzheimer’s. “I thought 'this guy is singing from the same hymn sheet as Bryce Vissel.'

I took it on myself: I need to get these two guys together. So here we are: we got both these guys on the stage at UTS. I’m very excited about that – where it’ll lead us (post-event), I don’t know at this stage.”

Changing the paradigms of Alzheimer’s research

It was the failure of the pharmaceutical and scientific industries that energised Marcus.

The giant of the health industry said, “Very little money goes into the cognitive decline area. There’s some – but if you were to put in an application to the NHMRC, which is the repository for the government of all research dollars going out, and you didn’t underpin your application with the amyloid theory – you just won’t get funded.”

Marcus Blackmore, Dr Dale Bredesen and Professor Bryce Vissel

Marcus Blackmore AM: "We've got to change the way research is allocated, so the Bredesens and Bryce Vissels of the world can actually conduct the research to justify other sorts of treatments."

Bryce Vissel has been calling for new approaches to Alzheimer’s and dementia research for more than a decade, and slowly, more voices have been joining his – including Blackmore’s. Now, high ranking journals are asking important questions about the etymology of Alzheimer’s disease, signifying a groundswell which Blackmore wants to nurture and encourage.

“(Bryce and Dale) have taken a different approach (to the disease), and it’s an unconventional approach. So now what we’ve got to do is change the way research is allocated, so these guys – the Bredesens and the Bryce Vissels of the world – can actually conduct the research to justify (other sorts of treatments).”

“Communities and platforms are the future.”

When asked what outcomes Marcus wanted from his philanthropic support of Open Minded, the business titan indicated that supporting a thought-provoking event at Australia’s number-one young university is just the beginning.

“Bryce wants to establish a community of people. Communities and platforms are the future of the business world – so hopefully we can create platforms and a community around this issue, and that will lead to better outcomes and research dollars being allocated to look at possibilities other than just the amyloid theory.

If I can contribute to that in any way, I will feel good about it – that’s all. I think there’s an opportunity for real change.”

‘Open Minded: Embracing new perspectives in Alzheimer’s disease’ featured Professor Bryce Vissel, Dale Bredesen MD; A/Prof David Burke from St Vincent’s Hospital, Petrea King and ABC medical journalist Sophie Scott. For the full video of the event, visit the UTS YouTube account.

For more information on the ground-breaking science being done by Professor Vissel, visit the CNRM website.

Sophie Scott, Associate Professor David Burke, Professor Bryce Vissel, Petrea King and Dale Bredesen MD

The Open Mind panel. From left to right: Sophie Scott, Associate Professor David Burke, Professor Bryce Vissel, Petrea King and Dale Bredesen MD