A SCOTS university researcher has received £235,000 to investigate how changes to the barrier between the blood supply and the brain contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Fiona McLean is a neuroscientist based at the University of Dundee’s School of Medicine who works to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.
She has received the funding as part of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s £2m commitment to 15 new research projects across the country, announced to mark the start of dementia awareness week.
In her Fellowship project, Dr McLean will study the blood-brain barrier and how it acts differently in Alzheimer’s.
The blood-brain barrier deteriorates in the disease allowing toxic substances to enter the brain.
Dr McLean will look at when and how the build-up of amyloid causes the blood-brain barrier to break down.
The aim is to find ways to reverse these changes in the blood-brain barrier in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and keep the brain healthy.
Dr McLean said: “Funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK has allowed me to develop my research that could ultimately help the search for future dementia treatments.
“My work focuses on a group of specialised cells in the brain that forms a barrier between blood vessels and the rest of our brain cells.
“This layer of protection controls what is allowed to enter our brain’s environment, but in diseases like Alzheimer’s this barrier can become leaky and let in toxic molecules.
“My research will provide insights on how the blood-brain barrier becomes leaky in Alzheimer’s with the hope of finding ways to slow down, stop or even reverse this happening.”
Blood vessels play a role in the delivery of oxygen to the brain. But in the brain, there’s a specialised group of cells that forms a barrier between the blood vessels and the nerve cells.
This layer of protection is called the ‘blood-brain barrier.’ These cells determine what gets into the brain and what doesn’t.
Amyloid is a hallmark protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers believe this sets off other damaging processes which lead to symptoms like memory loss and confusion.
In 80-90% of Alzheimer’s cases amyloid clumps are also found embedded in blood vessels in the brain.
Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Dementia affects nearly one million people in the UK, including around 90,000 in Scotland alone.
“This condition is not an inevitable part of getting older, but the result of diseases that damage the brain.
“The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, and ground-breaking research in Dundee will help to unpick the complex processes that contribute to its causes and drive progress towards new treatments.
“It’s not only researchers that can make a difference when it comes to dementia research.
“We urgently need people living with the condition and healthy volunteers to sign up to take part in vital research studies.”