Professor Peter Nestor is a Professor of Cognitive Neurology at the Queensland Brain Institute and Mater Hospital, Brisbane, whose research focuses on behavioural profiles and brain imaging in neurodegenerative diseases that cause dementia. He is one of our keynote speakers at the Australian Dementia Research Forum 2023.
Tell us a little bit about your academic and professional background. What inspired you to work in neurology and in degenerative dementias?
We are nothing without our mental abilities—everything we think, remember, decide as well as our feelings, our ability to empathise and so on—are what make us who we are. These are the things that define us as human beings and individuals. These abilities are the most important things about us. Thus, what could be more important than trying to research ways to ameliorate diseases that rob of us of these abilities?
You are a keynote speaker on frontotemporal dementia at the Australian Dementia Research Forum in May this year. What can people who attend your presentation expect?
Hopefully I can introduce some concepts or ways of approaching the topic that people have not necessarily considered previously.
Your research focuses on looking at the pathological landscapes of brain neurodegeneration in different pathologies. What have been some of the most influential findings from your work?
Hard to summarise in a few lines, (perhaps that is a failing on my part). I suppose examples where we challenged over-simplifications such as showing the true network degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease or how a very small area of degeneration in the brain can cause profound loss of knowledge.
You work with patients with degenerative diseases like dementia on a regular basis. Drawing on your experience, what are some activities or modifying factors we can practice to support healthy brain ageing and protect against cognitive degeneration?
Well, at the moment, these are mostly the things that one is also recommended for a healthy body—keeping reasonably fit, eating a healthy diet and so on.
Dementia has now become the leading cause of disease burden in Australia and remains the leading cause of death in Australian women. Globally, the dementia epidemic is only getting bigger. What are you hopes for dementia research, and the diagnosis and management of dementia, in the next ten years?
Well with more people with dementia, I think we need to be paying more attention to treating symptoms. In the past 20 years, this has been neglected in favour of finding cures. We should still look for cures of course, but not at the expense of improving the lives of people with dementias.
I also think we need to be spending much more time studying the diseases that cause dementia in people with the actual diseases. These are uniquely human diseases and the idea that one can ignore this fact and somehow discover something meaningful in animal models is naïve. Models have a potentially important role but they are…models. If one’s knowledge of the actual disease is flawed, or even wrong, creating a model of this flawed understanding is a waste of time and money and can even send research in a wrong direction.
Register for the Australian Dementia Research Forum 2023 to hear Professor Nestor’s presentation, along with other national and international keynote speakers. https://www.australiandementiaresearchforum2023.org.au/registrations-2023