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Greek-Australian Professor Pioneers New Way to Diagnose Dementia

Dennis Velakoulis and his research could revolutionize the diagnosing of dementia. Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corportation/Ron Ekkel

Diagnosing dementia could be entirely overhauled in the near future using new research conducted by Professor Dennis Velakoulis of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia.

Velakoulis recently revealed that diagnosing dementia could become as simple as analyzing blood samples, allowing the often degenerative disease to be detected in patients at a much younger age.

Diagnosing dementia through blood samples

Velakoulis spoke to Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) 7:30 program, discussing his groundbreaking research into dementia.

His research could allow people to be diagnosed with dementia at a much younger age, giving patients more precious time with their families and a greater understanding of their early-onset symptoms.

The first symptoms of dementia are strikingly similar to those of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. This actually leads to people being unaware that they are struggling with dementia, particularly if they are younger than the average dementia patient.

According to Velakoulis, in a majority of situations, blood tests, brain scans, and even memory testing might all seem normal, and nothing particularly unsettling may be detected.

“There are many situations that general practitioners and specialists face where it’s unclear if someone has a mental health or psychiatric disorder, like depression,” said Velakoulis, highlighting the importance of new solutions.

Velakoulis’ method of diagnosing dementia would work through measuring the levels of a protein named neurofilament light (NFL) in the blood. The presence of increased levels of NFL point to some type of brain trauma and the fact that brain cells have died.

However, elevated levels of NFL are not observed in people with depression or anxiety, as they do not have dying brain cells. However, in neurological disorders, such as dementia, brain cells are dying and releasing NFL, making this technique very beneficial to early diagnosis.

Currently, NFL levels are generally measured using samples of spinal fluid because it contains more of the proteins; however, it is likely that as technology improves, it will become more common to do so using only simple blood samples.

Greek-Australian Professor Velakoulis

Velakoulis, of Greek heritage, completed his education in Australia. He speaks Greek and uses his medical practice to help patients with psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and dementia. On his website, he highlights that he can help those with a Greek background or Greek-speakers especially, due to his own heritage.

Velakoulis graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in medicine before earning a diploma in criminology. He then shifted his focus back to medicine, gaining a graduate medical degree in psychiatry and neuroimaging.

He was also appointed Director of the Neuropsychiatry Unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2001, and his guidance has led to the unit’s growth both nationally and internationally over the twenty-first century.