Delving into how changes to blood circulation contributes to dementia

Research project: Clinician training partnership: vascular contribution to dementia

Lead Investigator: Dr William Whiteley

  • Institution: University of Edinburgh
  • Grant type: Clinical training partnership
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Amount: £225,000

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

This is important work and the partnership between stroke and dementia researchers is promising. We so much need an increased understanding of the early mechanisms in dementia so that treatment can be given early enough.

Project summary

This partnership will offer three clinical training fellowships under the joint supervision of experts in both stroke and neurodegeneration, with a focus on dementia. We hope this will produce a new generation of young clinicians trained in both specialties that will help bridge the gap that currently exists between stroke and dementia research.  

The background 

Dr Whiteley and his colleagues would like to understand more about why abnormal blood circulation in the brain significantly increases the risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They wish to understand the underlying changes that lead to a reduced blood supply to the brain that may then initiate and continue to contribute to dementia. 

In part, they will be focusing on how the internal lining of blood vessels in the brain interacts with other cells including immune and nerve cells.

What does this project involve?

There will be some common aspects of training for all three fellowships in keeping with the general aim of bridging the divide between stroke medicine and dementia. Each fellowship however, will focus on the specific underlying mechanisms of dementia.

  • The first fellowship will focus on the damaging effects of small vessel disease on the connections between different parts of the brain. The clinical trainee in this case will work with people who have had both stroke and experienced changes to their memory and thinking skills. Participants will have a high resolution MRI brain scan and information about their medical history will be collected. 
  • The second fellowship will use computing technology to find brain imaging reports that show changes to blood vessels in the brain in over 320,000 records. These people will then be followed up to find out who went on to develop dementia.
  • The third fellowship will look closely at molecular mechanisms of small vessel disease. The team will try to understand whether inflammation can damage the lining of blood vessels in an animal model of vascular dementia. They hope to unravel both the early changes of the disease process and also understand what happens as it progresses.  

How will this project help people with dementia?

The collaborative and varied nature of the training offered for young clinicians interested in neurology and dementia certainly provides a useful template for this type of partnership.  

Each individual project will contribute to a better understanding of vascular mechanisms of dementia. This will range from understanding the molecular changes to identifying biomarkers using brain scans.

This partnership will ensure that each of the trainees will have a better and wider understanding of dementia different areas of medicine including stroke and neurodegeneration.

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