Dr Rachel Wong
NHMRC-ARC Dementia Fellow
School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy
- Phone:(02) 4921 6408
Nutrients for Brain Health
Looking for a special combination of food ingredients to delay the onset of dementia, the research of Rachel Wong focuses on the effects of vasoactive nutrients in human circulatory function and its ability to enhance cognitive performance.
Rachel is currently working on a two-year clinical trial as part of her NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowship at the UON Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC).
“My focus is specifically on improving the health of the blood vessels in the brains of middle-aged and older adults,” Rachel says.
“If we can identify a portfolio of vasoactive nutrients that can restore the vascular damage caused by chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity, we may be able to delay the acceleration in cognitive decline in those who are at elevated risk of dementia.”
“Improving the circulation does not only lowers the risk of vascular disease and other comorbidities, the improvement of blood flow in the brain can also optimize cognitive function.”
“My work is just a tiny piece of the dementia puzzle, to try to improve quality of life for the ageing population by allowing them to remain independent for as long as possible.”
What is dementia?
Dementia is a broad term that describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.
The number of patients living with dementia in Australia is expected to increase to 400,000 in less than five years. Even now it is Australia’s second biggest killer.
“Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia characterised by the accumulation of plaques and tangles that damage brain cells” Rachel explains.
“Vascular dementia is the second most common cause associated with problems of circulation of blood to the brain, usually as a result of stroke. It often coexists with Alzheimer’s disease where the overlap between risk factors have indicated a potential link between vascular conditions and development of Alzheimer’s disease. ”
Although Rachel and her colleagues are working tirelessly to identify possible interventions that may delay vascular related cognitive decline, she explains that her work is but a small part of a bigger picture that is the battle against dementia.
Fortunately, the Federal Government recognizes the impact dementia has on dementia sufferers, family and carers, the health system, and ultimately the economy.
In 2014, they announced a $200 million ‘Boosting Dementia Research Initiative’ incorporating two main components over five years.
The urgent acceleration of progress towards finding preventions, treatments, and cures for dementia received $150 million in funding.
Whilst $50 million is allocated to target, co-ordinate and translate the national research effort to ensure existing and new research translates into better care for dementia patients.
Rachel was among the first to investigate the acute effects of trans-resveratrol supplementation in human vascular function.
In collaboration with Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, Professor Peter Howe, Rachel has studied the effect of resveratrol on the cerebrovascular function of adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus; obese adults; and, postmenopausal women.
“Resveratrol is multi-targeted benefits, and has been shown to support cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation, improving insulin sensitivity and enhancing the ability of blood vessels to dilate” Rachel states.
Pilot study results have been so promising that Rachel has attracted more than half a million dollars in funding to investigate the efficacy of vasoactive nutrients to promote healthy ageing in postmenopausal women.
Although the aim of her new two-year trial is to discover if resveratrol can reverse, or at least delay, cognitive decline in participants, secondary outcomes will also be measured.
“Our pilot studies show that resveratrol was also very effective in terms of improving pain perception and alleviate poor mood associated with menopause.”
“In the long-term trial, we are further exploring the benefits of resveratrol on other aspects of well-being such as sleep quality and depressive symptoms, looking at bone mineral density, total body composition, physical function such as balance and grip strength, and biomarkers like inflammation and insulin sensitivity – all of which have been implicated with ageing.”
Rachel came to Australia from Singapore where she studied Human Movement at the University of South Australia, initially hoping to become a sports coach.
Her honours research on the clinical evaluation of cardiovascular benefits of a nutrient intervention extended into clinical assessment of cognitive functions during her PhD training.
Accordingly, Rachel has expertise in vascular imaging of the systemic and cerebral arteries using ultrasound techniques (flow-mediated dilatation of the brachial artery and transCranial Doppler ultrasound).
“When I was doing my PhD, we didn’t have the headset technology I needed because it was prohibitively expensive,” Rachel recalls.
The fact that she improvised by holding the Doppler in place with her hands for long periods is a testament to her determination.
“I also had to process my images manually rather than continuously recording them. At Newcastle, I have the right equipment and can spend much more time on the research and less on the processing.”
Rachel is recently licensed to operate a DXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) machine that measures bone mineral density.
A Clinical Research Coordinator certified by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals, Rachel has accrued extensive experience in clinical trials management.
Her expertise on subject recruitment and retention, ability to conduct clinical trials in accordance with principles of Good Clinical Practice and maintaining rigour in all aspects of research performance and analysis is often sought.
She is lending her expertise in cerebrovascular ultrasound to colleagues at the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy to explore the contribution of blood flow in the brain on nausea induced by cyber technology.
Coarctation of the aorta, or congenital narrowing of the aorta, was the focus of another recent collaborative study, done with neurologists and cardiologists at John Hunter Hospital.
Rachel’s neurovascular imaging expertise was again utilized, this time to investigate a suspected link between this congenital heart condition and elevated risk of stroke in later life.
Resveratrol isn’t the first or only bioactive to come under Rachel’s scrutiny.
Rachel is currently assisting Professor Howe in his investigations into the cardiometabolic and cognitive benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid and curcumin supplementation in sedentary obese adults.
Queen of the super lab
Rachel dreams of creating and running a state of the art clinical research facility.
“Of course I also want to further my knowledge in the field of neurovascular and cognitive sciences, and not just looking into bioactives,” Rachel states.
“I want to continue my collaboration with local and international colleagues to look into mechanisms that could ultimately prevent or cure Alzheimer's disease.”
“ I can certainly do that while also overseeing a dream clinical research facility.”
Attached to the University, her facility would be recognized for its scientific rigor and ICH-GCP standards of conducting clinical trials.
“Having a research facility with outstanding track record in conducting trial and accreditation as a clinical trial coordinator, is greatly favoured by commercial contract research organization as it sets the standard for professionalism, research quality and competence, ” Rachel says.
With her self-confessed obsession with rigorous standards in the lab and a thirst for knowledge, plus persistence, determination and impressive management skills, Rachel is the perfect person to turn this dream into reality.
Rachel recently obtained her doctorate degree at the University of South Australia. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, The University of Newcastle. She is a member of International Society of Hypertension, High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia and the Nutrition Society of Australia. Her research focuses on the effects of bioactive nutrients in human circulatory function and cognitive performance. She was among the first to investigate the acute effects of trans-resveratrol supplementation in human vascular function. Since then Rachel has evaluated effects of chronic consumption of an oat extract on vasodilator function in systemic and cerebral arteries of older adults and its relationship with cognition. Her most recent work follows on from the acute resveratrol study to look at chronic resveratrol supplementation on vasodilator function and its impact on cognitive performance in obese adults. Rachel is currently investigating the relationships between ceberal blood flow haemodynamics and cognitive performance in adults with type 2 diabetes.Research Expertise
Dr Rachel Wong was already recognised as a high performing student during her undergraduate and subsequent Honours research on the clinical evaluation of cardiovascular benefits of a nutrient intervention and subsequently extending into clinical assessment of cognitive functions during her PhD training. Nutrients evaluated were trans-resveratrol and wild green oat extract. Rachel has expertise in vascular imaging of the systemic and cerebral arteries using ultrasound techniques (flow-mediated dilatation of the brachial artery and transCranial Doppler ultrasound) that enable quantification of the responsiveness of blood vessels to meet specific demands of the body. She also has extensive experience in clinical trials management including knowledge on subject recruitment and retention, ability to conduct clinical trials in accordance with principles of Good Clinical Practice and maintaining rigour in all aspects of research performance and analysis. She has recently completed a clinical evaluation of the olive leaf extract combination on 24-hr ambulatory blood pressure in hypertensive adults.
Undergraduate teaching: (1) Appointed as a tutor and practical demonstrator for Human Physiology and Human Nutrition courses offered to undergraduate students in the Division of Health Sciences. (2) Examined an honours thesis: ‘Effects of exercise on systemic and cerebral vascular function’. Training of research students in: (1) ultrasound imaging and analysis of flow-mediated dilatation in the brachial artery and cerebrovascular responsiveness to hypercapnic and cognitive stimuli using transCranial Doppler ultrasound. (2) administration of dementia status test and cognitive tests. (3) clinical trial management in accordance with the ICH-GCP Standard. Co-Supervision at University of Newcastle: (1) Neuropsychology Research Masters graduate (thesis: 'Cerebral blood flow and cognition in diabetes’). (2) PhD candidate in ‘Cerebral hemodynamics following visuo-vestibular-invoked nausea’. (3) Overseas exchange undergraduate students
Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC, Association of Clinical Research Professionals) - conduct clinical trials under ICH-GCP guidelines.
- PhD (Health Sciences), University of South Australia
- Bachelor of Applied Science (Human Movement), University of South Australia
- Bachelor of Health Sciences (Honours), University of South Australia
- Cardiovascular health
- Human Nutrition
- Human Physiology
- Transcranial Doppler ultrasound
- Mandarin (Fluent)
Fields of Research
|110201||Cardiology (incl. Cardiovascular Diseases)||30|
|170299||Cognitive Sciences not elsewhere classified||30|
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|1/01/2009 -||Membership - Nutritional Society of Australia||Nutritional Society of Australia
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Journal article (11 outputs)
Nealon RS, Howe PR, Jansen L, Garg M, Wong RH, 'Impaired cerebrovascular responsiveness and cognitive performance in adults with type 2 diabetes.', J Diabetes Complications, (2016)
Wong RHX, Nealon RS, Scholey A, Howe PRC, 'Low dose resveratrol improves cerebrovascular function in type 2 diabetes mellitus', Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 26 393-399 (2016)
Â© 2016 The Italian Society of Diabetology, the Italian Society for the Study of Atherosclerosis, the Italian Society of Human Nutrition, and the Department of Clinical Medicine a... [more]
Â© 2016 The Italian Society of Diabetology, the Italian Society for the Study of Atherosclerosis, the Italian Society of Human Nutrition, and the Department of Clinical Medicine and Surgery, Federico II University.Background and aims: Progressive microvascular dysfunction in type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) may impair the ability of cerebral vessels to supply blood to brain regions during local metabolic demand, thereby increasing risks of dementia. Having previously demonstrated that resveratrol can enhance vasodilator function in the systemic circulation, we hypothesised that resveratrol could similarly benefit the cerebral circulation. We aimed to determine the most efficacious dose of resveratrol to improve cerebral vasodilator responsiveness (CVR) in T2DM. Methods and results: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, balanced crossover intervention, 36 dementia-free, non-insulin dependent T2DM older adults (49-78 years old) consumed single doses of synthetic trans-resveratrol (0, 75, 150, and 300 mg) at weekly intervals. Transcranial Doppler ultrasound was used to assess CVR to a hypercapnic stimulus, both before and 45 min after treatment. CVR, measured bilaterally in the middle cerebral arteries (MCA) and posterior cerebral arteries (PCA), was expressed as the percentage change in mean blood flow velocity from baseline to the peak velocity attained during hypercapnia. Resveratrol consumption increased CVR in the MCA; mean within-individual changes for each dose from placebo were 13.8 Â± 3.5% for 75 mg (P = 0.001), 8.9 Â± 3.5% for 150 mg (P = 0.016), and 13.7 Â± 3.3% for 300 mg (P < 0.001); only the 75 mg dose was efficacious in the PCA (13.2 Â± 4.5%, P = 0.016). Conclusions: Our results provide the first clinical evidence of an acute enhancement of vasodilator responsiveness in cerebral vessels following consumption of resveratrol in this population who are known to have endothelial dysfunction and sub-clinical cognitive impairment. Importantly, maximum improvement was observed with the lowest dose used. Clinical trial registration: ACTRN12614000891628 (. www.anzctr.org.au).
Wong RHX, Raederstorff D, Howe PRC, 'Acute resveratrol consumption improves neurovascular coupling capacity in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus', Nutrients, 8 (2016) [C1]
Â© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.Background: Poor cerebral perfusion may contribute to cognitive impairment in type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). We conduct... [more]
Â© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.Background: Poor cerebral perfusion may contribute to cognitive impairment in type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). We conducted a randomized controlled trial to test the hypothesis that resveratrol can enhance cerebral vasodilator function and thereby alleviate the cognitive deficits in T2DM.We have already reported that acute resveratrol consumption improved cerebrovascular responsiveness (CVR) to hypercapnia. We now report the effects of resveratrol on neurovascular coupling capacity (CVR to cognitive stimuli), cognitive performance and correlations with plasma resveratrol concentrations. Methods: Thirty-six T2DM adults aged 40Â¿80 years were randomized to consume single doses of resveratrol (0, 75, 150 and 300 mg) at weekly intervals. Transcranial Doppler ultrasound was used to monitor changes in blood flow velocity (BFV) during a cognitive test battery. The battery consisted of dual-tasking (finger tapping with both Trail Making task and Serial Subtraction 3 task) and a computerized multi-tasking test that required attending to four tasks simultaneously. CVR to cognitive tasks was calculated as the per cent increase in BFV from pre-test basal to peak mean blood flow velocity and also as the area under the curve for BFV. Results: Compared to placebo, 75 mg resveratrol significantly improved neurovascular coupling capacity, which correlated with plasma total resveratrol levels. Enhanced performance on the multi-tasking test battery was also evident following 75 mg and 300 mg of resveratrol. Conclusion: a single 75 mg dose of resveratrol was able to improve neurovascular coupling and cognitive performance in T2DM. Evaluation of benefits of chronic resveratrol supplementation is now warranted.
Evans HM, Howe PRC, Wong RHX, 'Clinical evaluation of effects of chronic resveratrol supplementation on cerebrovascular function, cognition, mood, physical function and general well-being in postmenopausal womenÂ¿rationale and study design', Nutrients, 8 (2016)
Â© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.Background: This methodological paper presents both a scientific rationale and a methodological approach for investigatin... [more]
Â© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.Background: This methodological paper presents both a scientific rationale and a methodological approach for investigating the effects of resveratrol supplementation on mood and cognitive performance in postmenopausal women. Postmenopausal women have an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia, which may be at least partly due to loss of beneficial effects of estrogen on the cerebrovasculature. We hypothesise that resveratrol, a phytoestrogen, may counteract this risk by enhancing cerebrovascular function and improving regional blood flow in response to cognitive demands. A clinical trial was designed to test this hypothesis. Method: Healthy postmenopausal women were recruited to participate in a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled (parallel comparison) dietary intervention trial to evaluate the effects of resveratrol supplementation (75 mg twice daily) on cognition, cerebrovascular responsiveness to cognitive tasks and overall well-being. They performed the following tests at baseline and after 14 weeks of supplementation: Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test, Cambridge Semantic Memory Battery, the Double Span and the Trail Making Task. Cerebrovascular function was assessed simultaneously by monitoring blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral arteries using transcranial Doppler ultrasound. Conclusion: This trial provides a model approach to demonstrate that, by optimising circulatory function in the brain, resveratrol and other vasoactive nutrients may enhance mood and cognition and ameliorate the risk of developing dementia in postmenopausal women and other at-risk populations.
Wong R, Garg M, Wood L, Howe P, 'Antihypertensive Potential of Combined Extracts of Olive Leaf, Green Coffee Bean and Beetroot: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Crossover Trial', Nutrients, 6 4881-4894 (2014) [C1]
Wong RHX, Scholey A, Howe PRC, 'Assessing Premorbid Cognitive Ability in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus-a Review With Implications for Future Intervention Studies', CURRENT DIABETES REPORTS, 14 (2014) [C1]
Wong RHX, Coates AM, Buckley JD, Howe PR, 'Evidence for circulatory benefits of resveratrol in humans', Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1290 52-58 (2013) [C1]
Wong RHX, Berry NM, Coates AM, Buckley JD, Bryan J, Kunz I, Howe PRC, 'Chronic resveratrol consumption improves brachial flow-mediated dilatation in healthy obese adults', Journal of Hypertension, 31 1819-1827 (2013) [C1]
Background: We have previously demonstrated acute dose-dependent increases of flow-mediated dilatation (FMD) in the brachial artery after resveratrol consumption in mildly hyperte... [more]
Background: We have previously demonstrated acute dose-dependent increases of flow-mediated dilatation (FMD) in the brachial artery after resveratrol consumption in mildly hypertensive, overweight/obese adults. Resveratrol supplementation has also been shown to increase cerebral blood flow acutely, without affecting cognition. Objectives: To evaluate the effects of chronic resveratrol supplementation on both FMD and cognitive performance. Method: Twenty-eight obese but otherwise healthy adults (BMI: 33.3Â±0.6kg/m 2) were randomized to take a single 75 mg capsule of trans-resveratrol (Resvida) or placebo daily for 6 weeks each in a double-blind crossover supplementation trial. Blood pressure, arterial compliance, FMD, and performance on the Stroop Color-Word Test were assessed at the end of each 6-week intervention period while fasted and at least 18 h after taking the last daily capsule. An additional capsule of the same supplement was then taken. FMD assessment was repeated 1 h later. Results: Chronic resveratrol supplementation for 6 weeks was well tolerated and resulted in a 23% increase in FMD compared with placebo (P = 0.021, paired t-test). The extent of increase correlated negatively with baseline FMD (r= -0.47, P=0.01). A single dose of resveratrol (75 mg) following chronic resveratrol supplementation resulted in a 35% greater acute FMD response than the equivalent placebo supplementation. These FMD improvements remained significant after adjusting for baseline FMD. Blood pressure, arterial compliance, and all components of the Stroop Color-Word Test were unaffected by chronic resveratrol supplementation. Conclusion: Daily resveratrol consumption was well tolerated and has the potential to maintain healthy circulatory function in obese adults. Â© 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
|Show 8 more journal articles|
Conference (6 outputs)
Wong RHX, Jnasen L, Nealon R, Garg ML, Howe PRC, 'A PILOT INVESTIGATION OF CEREBROVASCULAR RESPONSIVENESS TO A NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL TEST BATTERY IN ADULTS WITH TYPE 2 DIABETES MELLITUS', HYPERTENSION (2015) [E3]
Wong RHX, Nealon R, Scholey A, Howe PRC, 'Dose response effect of resveratrol on cerebrovascular function in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus', Proceedings of the 2015 Resveratrol Regional Meeting Dijon France (2015) [E3]
Wong RHX, Nealon R, Scholey A, Howe PRC, 'Resveratrol consumption improves cerebrovascular function in type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM)', Proceedings of the Nutrition Society of Australia (2015) [E3]
Nealon R, Howe PRC, Jansen L, Garg ML, Wong RHX, 'Impaired cerebrovascular responsiveness to a working memory task in older adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM)', Proceedings of the Nutrition Society of Australia (2015) [E3]
evans H, wong R, Howe PRC, 'Is cognitive impairment in post-menopausal women attributable to poor cerebral perfusion? Baseline results of the ResFem Study', Book of Abstracts (2015) [E3]
Wong RHX, Nealon R, Jansen L, Garg M, Howe PRC, 'Cerebrovascular responsiveness to cognitive stimuli in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus', Combined Abstracts of the 2015 Australian Psychology Conferences (2015) [E3]
|Show 3 more conferences|
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||11|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20164 grants / $929,928
Funding body: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)
|Funding body||NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)|
|Project Team||Doctor Rachel Wong|
|Scheme||NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellowship|
|Type Of Funding||Aust Competitive - Commonwealth|
Cardiometabolic and cognitive benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid and curcumin supplementation in type 2 diabetes (T2DM)$218,181
Funding body: Blackmores Limited
Funding body: Evolva SA
Assisting post-menopausal women towards healthy ageing â can resveratrol enhance mood, physical function and cerebrovascular function and counteract cognitive decline?$15,944
Funding body: DSM Nutritional Products AG
20152 grants / $36,500
Effects of long-chain Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCn-3PUFA) supplementation on cerebral circulation and cognitive function$35,000
Funding body: Westfund Health
Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Health and Medicine
|Funding body||University of Newcastle - Faculty of Health and Medicine|
|Project Team||Doctor Rachel Wong|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|
20144 grants / $143,860
Funding body: CRC for High Integrity Australian Pork
Dose response evaluation of resveratrol supplementation on cerebrovascular function, mood and cognitive performance in type 2 diabetes mellitus$45,000
Funding body: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)
|Funding body||NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council)|
|Project Team||Professor Peter Howe, Doctor Rachel Wong, Professor Andrew Scholey|
|Scheme||Dementia Collaborative Research Centres (DCRC)|
|Type Of Funding||Other Public Sector - Commonwealth|
Assisting post-menopausal women towards healthy ageing - can resveratrol enhance mood and counteract cognitive decline?$25,000
Funding body: Hunter Medical Research Institute
Dose response evaluation of resveratrol supplementation on cerebrovascular function, mood and cognitive performance in type 2 diabetes mellitus$23,560
Funding body: DSM Nutritional Products AG
|Funding body||DSM Nutritional Products AG|
|Project Team||Professor Peter Howe, Doctor Rachel Wong, Professor Manohar Garg, Professor Andrew Scholey|
|Type Of Funding||International - Non Competitive|
20131 grants / $165,000
Funding body: Newcastle Innovation
Number of supervisions
Total current UON EFTSL
|Commenced||Level of Study||Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type|
The Effects of Resveratrol Supplementation on Bone Mineral Density, Risk of Falls and Fracture, Cardiovascular & Metabolic Health, and Physical Function in Post-Menopausal Women
PhD (Human Physiology), Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle
March 15, 2016
Adults with slightly elevated blood pressure are wanted for a University of Newcastle (UON) clinical trial evaluating the benefits of taking a fish oil supplement for brain health.
April 27, 2015
Can the health supplement resveratrol curb the notorious hot flushes, insomnia, irritability and occasional mental lapses that often accompany menopause?
January 8, 2015
Researchers in the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre at the University of Newcastle are seeking people with type 2 diabetes to take a new nutritional supplement designed to stimulate blood flow in the brain and reduce the threat of mental impairment.
August 24, 2014
40-85 year old volunteers with slightly elevated blood pressure are needed.