REVIEW: Aspiring for opportunities

HOPEFUL: Colin and Jane Cleary are taking part in the ASPREE study. Picture: LEIGH SHARP
HOPEFUL: Colin and Jane Cleary are taking part in the ASPREE study. Picture: LEIGH SHARP

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A NEW study looks at how aspirin can reduce the amount of unhealthy events in elderly people.

At this stage, aspirin is used for secondary prevention to stop heart attacks from re-occurring and disease from spreading.

This study aims to discover the possibility of the drug being used for primary prevention.

They will work to prove that aspirin may prevent or delay the "onset of cardiovascular disease, mental decline and certain cancers".

The study named ASPREE stands for Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly.

It is a joint venture conducted by Monash University and the US-based Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research.

More than 10,000 Victorians, over the age of 70, are already taking part in the study.

The study has recruited almost 15,000 people from Australia and will close recruitment at 16,500.

ASPREE are on track to finish recruitment at 19,000 across Australia and the USA.

ASPREE Regional Manager Dr Sharyn Fitzgerald said it was well-known that the drug aspirin could be used to prevent heart attacks and strokes if the incident was the second occurrence for the patient.

She said aspirin was proven to reduce further events in this case.

She said the question the researchers would aim to answer was - can we use aspirin in the same way for people who haven't had any episodes.

She said the study also looked at if it could delay diseases such as dementia and cancer.

Eligible participants would be randomly assigned to take 100mg of aspirin or a placebo tablet daily.

ASPREE is conducted across the South-Eastern parts of Australia, most notably in Victoria.

They have established research centres in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Shepparton, Traralgon, Warrnambool and Wodonga.

Along with these places there are sites set-up in Tasmania, Canberra and most recently Adelaide through university clinics.

The study is concentrated on regional centres as people living in those centres are not often included in medical research.

An ASPREE statistic recognises that regional centres have a higher participant per general practitioner ratio.

They said this is a reflection of the good standing general practitioners have in the local community.

She said the research process would reveal new information to the medical world.

She said the results will allow general practitioners to be sure when they prescribe the drug.

"Doctors will be guaranteed, rather than just what they think is right," she said.

She said the results would change the regular clinical practice.

She said many general practitioners subscribe their patients to aspirin but the same amount took their patients off aspirin.

She said if the study were successful in its findings it would be bring positive outcomes for not just the medical world.

She said if the drug aspirin were to be used on a wider basis to prevent a wider range of diseases then the savings would be felt on the population level.

She said the savings would be "massive" for health care in general.

"It would be well worth it financially for Australia's health care system," she said.

ASPREE Principal Investigator Professor John McNeil said the study is extremely relevant for Australia's ageing population.

"The study is looking at the potential of aspirin to maintain good health in older Australians, something that is increasingly important as our population ages," he said.

He said the study aimed to answer the question of whether a low dose of Aspirin daily would increase the likelihood of elderly people leading healthier lives.

Doctors often prescribed aspirin for secondary prevention, that is to prevent subsequent heart attacks and some forms of stroke.

This study will aim to prove whether the drug can be used for primary prevention, that is to halt disease before it develops or to delay the onset of disease or mental decline.

Though the elderly have the most to gain from this study, they also have increased risk from relying on it.

ASPREE admit older people are "also at the greatest risk from the drugs side effect of promoting bleeding".

The results of the study will determine whether the benefits of daily low dose aspirin outweigh the risks in the healthy elderly.

The requirements for someone to join the ASPREE study are; aged 70 or more and able-bodied, have not had a heart attack or stroke, are able to take 100mg of aspirin or a placebo tablet daily, and are able to undergo annual health assessments for an average of five years.

For more information about the study call 1800 728 745 or visit