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Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in older Australians. Alzheimer’s Australia estimates there are more than 350,000 Australians living with dementia, with the disease affecting three in ten people over the age of 85 and almost one in ten people over 65. It is the second leading cause of death and there is no cure.

Globally, dementia – including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and fronto-temporal lobe dementia – affects more than 46 million people. Please refer to the world map below indicating people living with dementia in each world region in 2015.


Approximately 10 million new cases of dementia were diagnosed in 2015 alone, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Dementia diseases also have a huge economic impact. The total estimated worldwide cost of dementia is currently estimated at in excess of US$800 billion.

In Australia, people over the age of 65 represent the fastest growing age group in the country. If preventative treatment were targeted only at this age group, Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2014 suggests the potential market is 3.5 million people. Globally, the World Bank estimates 8% of the planet’s 7.4 billion people are over the age of 65.

Source: Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2015

Dementia Treatments

There are currently five drugs registered for use in the treatment of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Four of these drugs target the same neurologic-al pathway. None of the drugs affect the underlying cause of dementia; they only treat symptoms associated with the disease and slow the steady decline of neurocognitive function in patients by nine to 12 months. Despite this, global sales of drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease totalled US$4.9 billion in 2013.

Studies showed that use of phytochemicals could slow down the onset and the progression of dementia. Phytochemicals can be less toxic than new synthetic drugs. Among phyto-chemicals, those suitable to treat neurodegenerative diseases are compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.

It has been shown that regular intake of phytochemicals could improve health status through improving the antioxi- dant system, cognitive and physical performance, and increasing neuronal cell survival.



Pharmacy shelves are full of oral phytochemical preparations.  The problem with these preparations is in fact, the chemical nature of these compounds.


Typically, phytochemical have low solubility in water, are susceptible to digestion in the stomach, are poorly absorbed from the intestine and when absorbed are inactivated immediately by the liver (first-pass metabolism).

To overcome these barriers phytochemicals must be formulated into a delivery vehicle that not only enhances their entry into the bloodstream, but also avoids the barriers presented by oral administration and first-pass metabolism. 

The skin provides an attractive site to deliver pharmaceutical agents without having to face the same obstacles presented by oral administration. Nanoemulsion preparations have been shown to effectively and rapidly transport active agents transdermally across the skin barrier. CWEK has developed methods of supplying solubilised phytochemicals in a nanoemulsified, transdermal system.  CWEK is working to develop this system into a cosmetic product that not only delivers phytochemicals into the body but can be used as a daily skin moisturiser.


PATENT: AU-2018101231 Methods to create a double nanoemulsion for transdermal delivery of hydrophilic and hydrophobic phytochemical active ingredients.

Sorghum Polyphenols

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) is the fifth most valuable global cereal crop after wheat, rice, maize and barley. Due to its adaptability to drought and high temperatures, sorghum is widely grown in semi-arid and arid regions in Australia. Although it has been utilised as a grain in other countries, it is mainly use in animal feed in Australia. Therefore, the food industry is looking for opportunities to introduce sorghum as a human grain. Since sorghum is rich in polyphenols, the food industry is trying to identify its’ suitability as a functional food preventative for dementia. 

Sorghum genotypes with pigmented testa have been found to have an extremely high phenolic content and antioxidant activity, which  may provide sorghum-based foods with benefits to human health. However, studies have yet to identify the effect of polyphenols from sorghum on dementia.  Study of these important aspects may assist in the development of a dietary approach aimed at preventing or delaying dementia onset.

The overall purpose of the proposed project is to evaluate the effect of polyphenols from sorghum on amyloid-β and tau protein levels (the main pathological hallmarks of dementia), in vitro; and in doing so, gain new insight into their potential as a therapeutic agent for dementia. Specifically, this project will:

Characterise the effect of polyphenols from sorghum on disease progression using in-vitro models of dementia by evaluating the effect on clearance and degradation of amyloid-beta and tau protein.

It is hoped that this pilot data will support a future applications to enable the conduct of large-scale clinical trials to evaluate the utility of sorghum as a potential therapeutic agent in the prevention and treatment of dementia. The results may provide support for altering dietary advice for the use of food additives aimed at the prevention and treatment of dementia diseases. 

This research is being conducted in conjunction with Edith Cowan University and Curtin University as part of a Ph.D. Fellowship Program.

(Photo by Jennifer Blackburn, courtesy of National Sorghum Producers.)