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Advancing Alzheimer's research

The research of two promising, young Western students receives support and recognition from the Foundation of the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex

by Krista Habermehl, MA'05 | August 11, 2015

Advancing Alzheimer's research
The research of two Western students receives support and recognition from the Foundation of the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex.

It’s the most common type of dementia – accounting for 64 per cent of all dementias in Canada – and yet, Alzheimer’s is a tricky disease to diagnose because it differs from person to person.

Take Jennifer Au’s grandparents for example. Four years ago, the couple was simultaneously diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a progressive, degenerative brain disease, despite exhibiting completely distinct symptoms. Her grandfather suffered memory loss, while her grandmother experienced mood and emotional changes.

It is this personal experience with the many faces of Alzheimer’s that led Jennifer, a 25-year-old master of science candidate at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, to immerse herself in Alzheimer’s research and volunteer with clients of the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex through cooking and art classes.

Jennifer Au is a master of science student studying treatments related to Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.

“Volunteering is one of my favourite things in my life, really,” says Jennifer, who also spends as much time as she can with her grandparents. “You can tell that it brightens the clients’ day and it relieves a lot of stress on the caregivers as well.”

The London, Ont. native is currently studying the interaction between Alzheimer’s disease and stroke using an antioxidant enzyme as a therapeutic treatment. The hope is to find a treatment that will prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, or both, in affected patients and, ultimately, improve the quality of life for those suffering with the disease.

“After dealing with my grandparents’ diagnoses, I was driven to seek out more in-depth knowledge about the disease and to find answers in a different way. My research allows me to do that,” she says.

Jennifer is one of two recipients of Foundation of the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex scholarships and has received $15,000 in support of her research efforts.

“This type of recognition gives me motivation to know that the work I’m doing is seen as important – to know I’m contributing to something that makes a difference,” says Jennifer. “It was a first for the Society to know a volunteer who received this distinction. It felt so good to see how proud they were of me.”

Lindsay Oliver is a neuroscience PhD candidate studying the effects of oxytocin and emotional mimicry on patients with dementia.

Lindsay Oliver, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, received the Foundation of the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex Doctoral Scholarship in Alzheimer-Related Research. The two-year, $30,000 award supports her research studying the effects of oxytocin and emotional mimicry on the behaviour and brain activity of patients with frontotemporal dementia, a specifc form of dementia that affects social and emotional behaviours. The goal is to find a treatment that will ease the symptoms of the disease and improve the quality of life for both patients and caregivers.

“I feel so grateful for this support. It has motivated me even more and has helped me maintain focus on making a positive impact. I feel very fortunate for this opportunity and to be connected with the Alzheimer Society and the work that they do,” says the 27-year-old Otterville, Ont. native.

For the Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex, the awards represent a valuable partnership between the organization and the University and a strong connection to the research efforts of Western students.

“The Premier Research Award for faculty members and the Graduate Research Scholarships funded through our Foundation represent an investment in hope; hope for advanced treatments and a possible cure emanating from the renowned research that takes place at Western,” says Alzheimer Society of London and Middlesex CEO Betsy Little.

Jennifer defends her thesis this summer and will begin a master of science in Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto in September to extend her volunteer work into a career that supports the elderly and their caregivers. Lindsay will defend her PhD thesis by the fall of 2016 and hopes to continue her research in the same field in a postdoctoral capacity.

For more information about the fundraising priorities of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, please contact Tracey Rutledge, executive director, Development (519.661.2111, ext. 24290 or tracey.rutledge@schulich.uwo.ca).


This article appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of Impact Western
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