The Preventia study

Does manipulation of arterial shear stress enhance cerebrovascular function and cognition in the ageing brain?

The Preventia study will compare six months of land-based walking to the same period of water-based walking, and also to a control group. The effects on the health and function of arteries in the brain will be examined to investigate whether one type of exercise is more effective in improving memory and cognition.

We were the first group to observe that exercise training induces beneficial effects on endothelial function in arteries distant from the working muscle.

We also observed that different shear forces are associated with different acute impacts on endothelial function, which may in turn explain differences in the impact of distinct forms of exercise training on arterial adaptation in humans. Much of this work has been facilitated by our invention of new technical approaches which will be used in the Preventia study.

We plan to recruit 150 healthy, insufficiently active individuals, aged 50 years and older, with subjective memory complaints will be recruited from the community. Participants will be randomised to either a land-based, water-based or non-exercise training group.

The exercise groups will attend centre-based exercise sessions three times a week for six months.

The control group will maintain their usual lifestyle and attend 4 one-hour centre-based healthy ageing education sessions over the six months.

All groups will have a further six-month non-intervention period.

Participants will undertake assessments of brain blood flow; peripheral vascular function; cognition; blood pressure; cardiovascular fitness; physical activity; blood lipids; glucose; insulin, BDNF, inflammatory markers; platelet function; body composition; mood and wellbeing at baseline, six and 12 months.

Brain blood flow and vascular measures will also be measured at three months.

Given that pharmacological approaches to prevention of cognitive decline are relatively ineffective, this project is highly clinically relevant and has great potential to address the future impact of this common, debilitating and expensive disease.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings
More information

Dementia is a syndrome affecting cognition, behaviour, function and quality of life which can be caused by numerous underlying disorders. Approximately seven per cent of the world’s population over 65 years and 30 per cent of those over 80 years suffer from dementia and these numbers double if cognitive impairment is included as a defining criterion (O'Brien JY, et al. 2013).

Traditional criteria distinguish between Alzheimer's disease (AD; approximately 50 per cent of cases) and vascular dementia (25-30 per cent of cases) as leading causes, but it is increasingly recognised there is a close relationship between these.

Vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) is defined as all forms of mild-to-severe cognitive impairment associated with, and presumably caused by, cerebrovascular disease. There is currently no standard treatment for VCI and little is known regarding prevention (O'Brien JY, et al. 2013).

As current pharmacological treatments have proven to be relatively ineffective, this highlights the need for the development of effective non-pharmacological strategies to ideally prevent, or at least delay, dementia and cognitive decline.

Exercise is one of the most promising strategies to achieve this goal.

Our detailed review on exercise effects in subjects with AD and mild cognitive impairment indicated that the majority of recent publications in this area strongly support exercise as a protective factor for reducing the risk of cognitive decline in old age (Lautenschlager et al. 2010).

We also recently published a landmark randomised controlled trial of the effect of a 24-week home-based walking program on cognitive function in older adults at risk of AD (Lautenschlager et al. 2008).

This trial established for the first time that trained older adults at risk of AD exhibit significantly improved cognition which persists for another 12 months after cessation of the active intervention.

The optimal form of exercise to improve cognition has not been studied.

Based on our knowledge of adaptation to exercise in the peripheral vasculature, we propose an alternate paradigm to explain the effects on exercise on cerebrovascular function and cognition in humans.

Research team leader: Professor Daniel John Green

I am a human integrative biologist whose research focuses on the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. My specific expertise relates to novel imaging approaches to the assessment of micro and macrovascular diseases, including surrogate measures of early and occult disease.

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project include:

  • A postgraduate degree with a background in exercise physiology.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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