Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre

Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre

Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre

The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre was established as a collaboration between founding partners WEHI and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and made possible thanks to a generous $15 million commitment from the Colonial Foundation.

An early blood test for dementia

The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre has a single focus – to design and develop the first blood test to diagnose dementia. The test will diagnose dementia at an early stage, when more can be done to stop or slow the progression of the disease.

Over the five-year term of the centre, we will use cutting-edge technology and bioinformatic tools to analyse more than 20,000 human samples with the aim of identifying a dementia signature. With clinical pathologists at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH), we will validate biomarkers with the goal of developing pathology tests for the early detection of dementia. A diagnostic test will also help to:

  • monitor disease progression
  • monitor treatment response
  • assist clinicians in prescribing targeted interventions
  • better understand familial risk.


Diagram depicting collaboration between WEHI and RMH personell

Dementia: a complex and growing health problem

Dementia is a progressive neurological condition that will touch many of our lives. Living with dementia can profoundly impact a person’s quality of life, and families acting as carers.

Despite dementia being the second leading cause of death in Australia, research continues to be underfunded. Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people living with dementia is expected to more than double by 2050.

Dementia research has so far failed to deliver life-changing benefits for individuals and the community in the same way that new treatments for cancer or heart disease have.

About the centre

We urgently need new and better ways to diagnose dementia. These solutions must take advantage of the most advanced technologies available while being accurate, cost-effective and practical enough to be widely used.

The Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre has:

  • A collaborative vision to bring together the best and brightest minds to tackle one of the biggest global health crises.
  • A different approach, using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry technology to find complex disease signatures that will enable early detection of dementia. 
  • A unique network of medical researchers, clinicians, neuropsychiatrists, pathologists, patient advocacy groups and philanthropists, working together to make this vision a reality.

Our goals

Stage 1 iconStage 1: Discover biomarkers

We are generating proteomic and metabolic data to identify a biomarker or panel of biomarkers that could be used to detect and diagnose dementia.

Stage 2 iconStage 2: Develop assays for emerging biomarkers

The centre is developing immunoassays for ultrasensitive detection of blood biomarkers for dementia.

Stage 3 iconStage 3: Implement tests in pathology labs

We are addressing the challenges of implementing powerful mass spectrometry-based tools for diagnostics, to produce an accredited pathology test for the early detection of dementia.

Stage 4 icon

Stage 4: Conduct patient data-driven research

We are investigating Parkinson's disease biomarkers and optimising tools for biomarker discovery. 


Centre leadership


Photo of A/Prof Andrew WebbAssociate Professor Andrew Webb
Andrew is Head of the Proteomics Laboratory at WEHI and Head of the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre. His work includes applying the latest proteomics methods to understand how changes in proteins in our body influence health and disease, including cancers, infectious diseases and neurodegenerative conditions including dementia.


Photo of Prof Frank BowlingProfessor Frank Bowling

Frank is the former Director of Pathology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and has been instrumental in establishing the Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre as a partnership between WEHI and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. 

Frank is a member of the National Pathology Accreditation Advisory Council (NPAAC) and an assessor of pathology laboratories for NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities). His work includes translational research, pathology services and laboratory medicine in the fields of genomics, proteomics and metabolomics.


Photo of A/Prof Cherie ChiangAssociate Professor Cherie Chiang
Cherie is Head of Chemical Pathology at RMH and a qualified endocrinologist and chemical pathologist, with joint appointments at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Austin Hospital. Her research includes validating new mass spectrometry technology to measure drug levels and to identify drugs in urine during presentations of unknown drug overdose.


Collaborator logos


Enquiries can be sent to Dr Nadja Bertleff-Zieschang, Colonial Foundation Healthy Ageing Centre Manager.

Professor Doug Hilton and Professor Christine Kilpatrick

The grant will enable a new research program – led by researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and The Royal Melbourne Hospital – to develop diagnostic tests for the early detection of dementia in people as young as 40.

Microscopic image of a neuron

Our scientists are working to improve the detection of neurodegenerative conditions that cause dementia.

Associate Professor Rosie Watson at WEHI

Associate Professor Rosie Watson, clinician at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and joint laboratory head at WEHI, has received $1.2 million in federal government funding as Chief Investigator on an international project aimed at improving outcomes in dementia. 

Associate Professor Rosie Watson at WEHI

Associate Professor Rosie Watson describes her work to develop a blood test to improve the clinical diagnosis of dementia.