Race Against Dementia and Dementia Australia Research Foundation Fellow
Flinders University, Australia
Dr Karissa Barthelson studied her undergraduate degree at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, where she continued to do a PhD in genetics. This is when she started using zebrafish as a model organism to understand the early changes which underly Alzheimer’s disease. She used sophisticated genetic and computational technologies and found that changes to energy production may be a driving factor for this disease. For this work, she received the prestigious Harold Woolhouse Prize, awarded to the best PhD thesis in the Faculty of Sciences for the year.
She was awarded the RAD DARF Fellowship in 2022 to investigate whether Alzheimer’s disease and Sanfilippo syndrome childhood dementia share a common pathological basis and to explore whether this can be targeted by treatment strategies which could be beneficial for both diseases.
“This Fellowship opportunity allows me to learn from the best minds in academia and industry, leading to new collaborations and accelerating my goal to discover innovative solutions to research dementia.”
Dr Karissa Barthelson
To date, the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease has been difficult to capture completely in animal models. Consequently, treatments originally developed in animals are not particularly effective in all Alzheimer’s disease cases.
Tragically, dementia is not only a disease of the elderly. Currently, there is approximately 700,000 children in the world who live with childhood-onset dementia. This is a significant burden, yet the existence of childhood dementia is not nearly as recognised as Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, the genetic bases of the childhood dementias are very well defined, and reliably representative animal models exist. There is a large degree of overlap in the brain and behavioural changes between Alzheimer’s disease and the childhood dementias. Therefore, the possibility arises that the disease-associated mechanisms in the childhood dementias are similar to those in Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Barthelson’s research assesses molecular-level similarities between the pathologies of Alzheimer’s disease and one of the more common forms of childhood dementia – Sanfilippo syndrome. She is studying whether treatments targeting these shared pathologies are therapeutic in both conditions and analysing parallel responses between Alzheimer’s disease and Sanfilippo syndrome models to see if they reveal innovative solutions to both dementia types.