HOW POPULATION STUDIES CAN HELP PREVENT NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES

Humanity is getting older. Due to a combination of longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates, the proportion of the population aged over sixty years is growing faster than any other age group. The success of public health policies and socio-economic development has brought new relevance to diseases of the brain that often accompany ageing. Most of these ailments – including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease – cannot yet be prevented or cured. Too little is known about both the factors that cause disease and those that sustain healthy brain ageing. Monique Breteler, currently affiliated with DZNE in Bonn, the University of Bonn and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, has been leading international population studies in the area of neuro-degenerative diseases for over twenty years, focusing on their causes and preclinical detection. She was recently awarded the 2012 Bengt Winblad Lifetime Achievement Award by the Alzheimer’s Association for this research. With Breteler’s lecture, Falling Walls focuses attention on a new age of health research aimed at optimising brain function and quality of life throughout the entire life span.

Monique Breteler

DZNE & Havard School of Public Health, Boston

Professor Dr. Breteler’s research focuses on the causes and presymptomatic detection of neurodegenerative and cerebrovascular diseases, including dementia (in particular Alzheimer’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, cerebral small vessel disease and ischemic stroke. She is Director of Population Health Sciences, German Center for Neurodegenerative diseases (DZNE) and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at Havard School of Public Health, Boston. In the early 1990s she was one of the first epidemiologists to challenge the strict clinical distinction between Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, and to incorporate brain imaging in population based studies. Since then an important research focus of hers has been on the quantification and elucidation of the role of vascular factors in the etiology of dementia.