Investigating the causes of white matter damage and its link to dementia

Read about a research project we funded into the causes of white matter damage and its link to dementia.

Lead Investigator: Dr Atticus Hainsworth

Institution: St George's, University of London

Grant type: Project

Grant amount: £126,441

Start date: 9th Jan 2012

End date: 7th April 2015 

Scientific Title: Blood-brain barrier neuropathology, white matter lesions and dementia.

What was the project, and what did the researchers do?

The cells and other components of the brain can be classified as either white matter or grey matter, and these perform different functions. Grey matter mostly consists of neurons and some supporting brain cells. White matter allows messages to be sent between brain cells much faster, and protects the parts of brain cells that make these connections. When white matter becomes damaged, it can affect brain function. 

In Alzheimer's disease, damage to white matter is frequently seen and it is highly likely that at least some of these white matter injuries are due to problems with the brain's blood vessels. While the exact cause remains unknown, researchers think that this damage may be caused in older brains by 'leakiness' in some of these blood vessels. 

In this project, the researchers wanted to investigate this theory. They examined a large collection of donated brains and looked for evidence of leaky blood vessels, to find out whether these leaky vessels were more common in people with dementia. 

What were the key results, and how will this help in the fight against dementia?

The researchers found that leaky vessels are more common in the brains of older people. The results also suggest that leaky vessels caused by white matter damage may be a risk factor for people with dementia. These findings are important as in the future, treatments could be developed to prevent this leakiness. These treatments may help to prevent white matter injuries from developing further, possibly delaying the onset of further cognitive impairments and dementia.

What happened next? Future work and additional grants

Dr Hainsworth is a co-applicant on a grant to further investigate these findings. 

Dr Hainsworth has been awarded funding from the Alzheimer's Society and the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) for investigating the drug tadalafil in treating blood vessel contributions to dementia. This will support the NIH (US National Institute of Health) PASTIS trial, and is currently recruiting participants. 

How were people told about the results? Conferences and Publications


Hainsworth et al. in preparation 

Bridges et al. 2014 

Hainsworth 2015, Brain Pathology (review)

Research seminars 

Rush Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Chicago, April 2014

Department of Pharmacology, University of Washington- Seattle, March 2014

Neurovascular Research Lab., Harvard Med School, March 2014 

Eli Lilly Neuroscience Research Centre, Windlesham, Feb 2014

St George's Hospital Grand Round, Oct 2013

Dementia: A National Symposium, OU-Milton Keynes, May 2013

Kings College London, Stroke Forum, May 2013

University of Bristol-Frenchay Hospital, March 2013

Harvard-Massachusetts General Hospital, Oct 2012

University of California-Irvine, Oct 2012

Conference presentations 

Dr Hainsworth co-chaired a session on VCID (Vascular Contributions to Cognitive Impairment and Dementia) at the 2015 Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) in July 2015, Washington DC. 

Dr Hainsworth has been invited to join the Scientific Advisory Board for the upcoming 9th International Conference on Vascular Dementia (ICVD) in Ljubljana, Slovenia in October 2015. 

Conference poster presentations 

Andoh et al. 2014, British Neuropathological Society, 2014

Vasita 2014, Alzheimer's Association International Conference, 2014

Press Coverage 

Dr Hainsworth presented the group's dementia research in the national media during the G8 Dementia Summit in London in December 2013. 

Sky News

BBC News

The Times, 10th Dec 2013

Sky Science News (recorded interview)

BBC Radio (recorded interview)

ITV News (live interview) 

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