Quick Project Snapshot

Is stroke neurodegenerative? A longitudinal study of changes in brain volume and cognition after stroke (CANVAS: Cognition And Neocortical Volume After Stroke)


Stroke and dementia are responsible for an enormous and growing burden of disease. In Australia, the prevalence of dementia is projected to increase more than four-fold in the next four decades, from 245,400 people in 2009 to 1.13 million people by 2050. Stroke also has considerable burden of disease: annually 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke, leaving 5 million disabled. Five million stroke sufferers do not survive their events.

Stroke and dementia are linked. Up to two thirds of people who have a stroke experience cognitive impairment, and more than one third will develop dementia over the subsequent five years. Moreover, risk factors for stroke and dementia are similar. Yet we still know very little about whether brain volume loss – a hallmark of dementia – occurs after stroke, and whether such atrophy is related to cognitive decline. An understanding of whether stroke is neurodegenerative, and in which patients, may be used to help guide the early delivery of disease-modifying therapies.


  • To determine whether stroke patients have reductions in brain volume in the first five years post-stroke compared to control participants
  • To determine whether regional and global brain volume change is associated with post-stroke dementia.


CANVAS is an observational, longitudinal, case control study that is following 135 ischaemic stroke patients and 40 age-matched, healthy controls, over five years. Participants are recruited from three sites in Melbourne (Austin Health, Eastern Health, Melbourne Health), with all sessions held at The Florey, Melbourne Brain Centre, Austin Hospital campus.

Participants complete an interview, MRI scan and neuropsychological assessment at five time-points (baseline, three months, one year, three years, and five years). They also provide a blood sample to determine their genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. After their review sessions, participants wear an activity monitor for seven days, so we can collect information about their physical activity levels and sleep patterns.  Forty stroke participants will be invited to undergo a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan at their three year review session. The scan will allow us to quantify levels of a protein, called beta-amyloid, in their brains. This protein is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

These methods allow us track changes in participants’ brain volumes and thinking skills over time and elucidate potential causal mechanisms (e.g., genetic markers, amyloid deposition, and vascular risk factors).


The study has received ethics approval from Austin Health (H2012-04650), Eastern Health (E22-1213) and Melbourne Health (2012.164).

Recruitment for the CANVAS study ended in the mid-2015. As of August 2016, all participants had completed their one year review sessions and 53 (40 stroke) participants had completed their three year review sessions. By the end of 2016, we anticipate that seven stroke participants will have completed their five year review sessions.  The data collection phase of the study will end in mid-2020.

Research support:

CANVAS began as a pilot study in 2011 with funding from the Brain Foundation. We received additional support from the Wicking Trust, Collie Trust, and Sidney and Fiona Myer Family Foundation. 

With the receipt of an NHMRC grant in 2012 (APP: 1020526), we were able to increase the sample size to 135 stroke participants; extend the study to three years post-stroke; and include a healthy control group.

In September 2015, Associate Professor Brodtmann received one of six NHMRC-funded, Dementia Research Team Grants (APP: 1094974). This has allowed us to extend the study to five years post-stroke.

The CANVAS team greatly appreciates the financial support of the aforementioned organisations, of course, the ongoing assistance of participants in the CANVAS study and their family members. It is only with this support that the study is possible.



Cumming, T. & Brodtmann, A. (2011). Can stroke cause neurodegenerative dementia? International Journal of Stroke, 6, 416-424.

Brodtmann, A., Werden, E., Pardoe, H., Li, Q., Jackson, G., Cowie, T., Bradshaw, J., Darby, D., & Cumming, T. (2014). Charting cognitive and volumetric trajectories after stroke: protocol for the Cognition And Neocortical Volume After Stroke (CANVAS) study. International Journal of Stroke, 9, 824-828.

Li, Q., Pardoe, H., Lichter, R., Werden, E., Raffelt, A. Cumming, T., & Brodtmann, A. (2015). Cortical thickness estimation in longitudinal stroke studies: a comparison of 3 measurement methods. NeuroImage: Clinical, 8, 526-535.

Veldsman, M., Churilov, L., Werden, E., Li, Q., Cumming, T., & Brodtmann, A., Physical activity after stroke is associated with increased inter-hemispheric connectivity of the dorsal attention network. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair (accepted).


Project Supervisor(s): Associate Professor Amy Brodtmann, Dr Toby Cumming

Project Members: Professor Geoffrey Donnan, Professor Graeme Jackson, Dr Heath Pardoe, Associate Professor David Darby, Dr Emilio Werden, Qi Li, Laura Bird, Dr Michele Veldsman, Dr Natalia Egorova, Dr Mohamed Khlif, Tiffany Cowie, Professor Christopher Rowe

Project Collaborators: Collaboration between The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Austin Health, Eastern Health, and Melbourne Health

Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory

In the Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, we study network degeneration following brain injury (e.g., ischaemic stroke) and have a particular interest in vascular contributions to cognitive impairment both in aging and in a range of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The latter is the most common cause of dementia in the western world and is associated with profound impairments in cognition and activities of daily living. Our research seeks to investigate neuroimaging correlates of cognitive decline; the effects of post-stroke exercise interventions on brain volume and cognitive function; and the accuracy and accessibility of imaging modalities in the diagnosis of dementia.  The ultimate goal of our research is to increase our understanding of two of the major causes of death, disability, and reduced quality of life in our society: dementia and stroke. Our team is headed by Associate Professor Amy Brodtmann, stroke and cognitive neurologist, Director of the Eastern Cognitive Disorders Clinic, and Heart Foundation Research Fellow.

We are collaborating with dementia and stroke researchers, clinicians, and neuroscientists, in Australia, and overseas, including Professor Martin Dichgans and Dr Marco During of the DEMDAS study in Munich Germany, Professor Charles DeCarli at the University of California Davis in the US, and Professor Vladimir Hachinski at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. These researchers are experts in their respective fields.

Our primary interest is to understand whether stroke and ischaemic brain injury cause neurodegeneration. This is currently being investigated in one of our major research projects, the NHMRC-funded, Cognition and Neocortical Volume After Stroke (CANVAS) Study, which is now in its fifth year of data collection.  In this study, stroke participants undergo an MRI scan and cognitive assessment within a few weeks of their events, and again, 3 months, 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years later. By comparing their results with a healthy, age-matched control group with no history of stroke or dementia, we can determine whether brain volume change is associated with post-stroke dementia and elucidate potential causal mechanisms, including genetic markers, amyloid deposition and vascular risk factors.

Another interest of our lab is to examine the association between exercise and rates of brain volume loss and cognitive decline after stroke.  In the Post Ischaemic Stroke Cardiovascular Exercise Study (PISCES), we seek to determine whether aerobic exercise after stroke is associated with preservation of brain volume and function, cognition, and greater physical and psychological well-being. One of the most important elements of this research study is its translatable novelty – our data will contribute to an applicable intervention-based approach.

All Projects by this Lab

Network disruptions following brain infarction: cognition, behaviour and regional brain volume changeIs stroke neurodegenerative? A longitudinal study of changes in brain volume and cognition after stroke (CANVAS: Cognition And Neocortical Volume After Stroke)Evaluating Imaging Methods in Dementia (TIMID)Motor Speech Disorders in Degenerative Brain DiseaseBereavement and Grief in Neurodegenerative Disease (BAGINS)Post Ischaemic Stroke Cardiovascular Exercise Study (PISCES)

Melbourne Dementia Research Centre

The Melbourne Dementia Research Centre is a joint collaboration between the University of Melbourne and The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and has a charter to transform research in Dementia.

The Centre seeks to achieve real outcomes for people living with dementia by developing new and better diagnostics, and discovering novel treatment possibilities.

The Centre is a truly multidisciplinary hub of research that spans from basic laboratory research all the way through to human clinical trials.

Through its network of global collaborators, the Centre exists at the forefront of the latest developments in the field.

The Centre is led by Professor Ashley Bush, a world leader in dementia research and Australia’s most highly cited neuroscientist. Director Bush is supported by the Leadership Board comprising Professor Patricia Desmond, Associate Professor Amy Brodtmann, and Dr. Scott Ayton.

All Labs that operate in this Division

Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience LaboratoryOxidation Biology UnitVascular Neurodegeneration Research Laboratory