Is Dementia All in the Genes?

Experts at Western believe some people are predisposed to the condition. We meet Fulbright Scholar Nikita Roy to find out more.

When University of Connecticut student Nikita Roy was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad, she had her sights set on Western Sydney University. Namely the Translational Research Health Institute, where promising research is set to change the lives of those at risk of dementia.

Why Western?

Nikita, 22, was drawn to Dr Genevieve Steiner’s ground-breaking research. A cognitive neuroscientist, Steiner has been investigating prevention strategies for those predisposed to cognitive decline. Nikita, who travelled to Australia to complete the final semester of her Master of Public Health, has been supporting Steiner by analysing the brain activity of dementia patients, searching for links between cognition and genetic make-up.

Nikita is interested in a serum called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is secreted in the brain. Some people carry a genetic variation that results in decreased secretion, which has been linked to cognitive decline.

‘If we can identify the potential cognitive effects resulting from this genetic variation, we can start to take preventative measures,’ says Nikita.

‘We can think proactively in terms of changing a person’s behaviour, modifying their diet and exercise or even prescribing medication that could prevent cognitive decline later in life.’

As a Fulbright Scholar, Nikita is sponsored by the United States government, as well as Western Sydney University. Founded in 1946, the program was originally funded by the sale of surplus war materials; today, it’s open to students and academics in more than 160 countries and previous recipients include no less than 60 Nobel laureates.

So what’s next for Nikita? New York’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she’ll embark on a four-year medical degree. ‘I'll be taking a lot of lessons home to the US,’ she says.

‘Participating in research here at Western Sydney has prepared me for a career in medicine in so many ways, both personally and professionally.’