Tiny blood vessels in brain could be key to treating vascular dementia

Professor Darek Gorecki

Professor Darek Gorecki

Researchers from the universities of Portsmouth and Southampton are to study tiny channels embedded in the walls of blood vessels in the brain to assess their impact on dementia.

Dementia is the loss of mental ability due to the gradual death of brain cells. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and is estimated to account for about 20 per cent of all cases, which itself affects around 850,000 people in the UK.

It is caused by problems with the small vessels of the brain. These vessels have two functions: to supply blood to the brain and to remove toxic waste. The removal of waste is along tiny pathways called basement membranes that are extremely thin: a millionth of the thickness of one human hair.

These pathways are anchored to the cells that make up the walls of the vessel, making them very difficult to see and investigate.

The experimental study will use a unique model in collaboration with Professor Darek Gorecki of the University of Portsmouth, to look at whether it is this anchoring system that prevents the pathways to perform their function.

Professor Gorecki’s research team in the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences discovered the anchor protein, which guards the environment in which the brain can function properly. It acts like a ‘plumber’ making sure that water flows between the blood and the brain.

Professor Gorecki said: “Understanding this anchoring system could eventually improve treatment for sufferers of vascular dementia and other brain diseases, such as stroke and brain tumours.”

Professor Roxana Carare, of the University of Southampton who leads the study, comments: “The basement membranes have a very important job in taking waste away from the brain. The failure in this system designed for eliminating waste may lead to vascular dementia, a devastating condition that can affected a lot of people. Understanding the exact arrangement and function of all elements in the system for eliminating waste from the brain will bring us a step closer to the design of efficient therapies for vascular dementia”

The £245,000 study is being funded through a collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society, British Heart Foundation and the Stroke Association who have united to invest £2.2 million into vascular dementia research.

Around 150,000 people in the UK are living with vascular dementia, with the latest estimates suggesting that by 2050 the number could rise dramatically to 350,000 people.

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