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Hope of a treatment for hundreds of thousands with vascular dementia as scientists discover what could stop ‘devastating condition in its tracks’
- Researchers could restore communication within artery cells in the brain
- In vascular dementia brain cells become starved of nutrients and get damaged
Experts are one step closer to a treatment for vascular dementia after discovering what triggers the condition.
Vascular dementia, which affects hundreds of thousands in the UK and US, is caused by high blood pressure which leads to a reduced blood supply to the brain.
The brain cells become starved of nutrients and eventually become damaged and die, causing symptoms including poor memory and lack of concentration.
While it is normal for the brain’s arteries to narrow and widen in response to changes in blood pressure, consistently high blood pressure causes arteries to stay narrow and restrict blood supply.
Until now, it was not known why this occurred.
By identifying drugs that could restore communication within artery cells in the brain, the experts hope to soon be able to improve blood supply to affected areas of the brain and slow the progression of vascular dementia
But researchers from the University of Manchester have discovered that – in mice – high blood pressure disrupts communication within artery cells in the brain.
They found this happens when two cell structures, that normally help transmit messages to tell arteries to dilate, move further apart.
This stops the messages reaching their target, causing the arteries to remain permanently constricted and limiting blood flow to the brain.
It is hoped the research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), will accelerate development of treatment for the condition.
By identifying drugs that could restore this communication, the experts hope to soon be able to improve blood supply to affected areas of the brain and slow the progression of vascular dementia.
While the findings are yet to be confirmed in humans, the processes of blood vessel narrowing and widening are very similar in mice and humans.
Professor Adam Greenstein, one of the leaders of the research, said: ‘By uncovering how high blood pressure causes arteries in the brain to remain constricted, our research reveals a new avenue for drug discovery that may help to find the first treatment for vascular dementia.
‘Allowing blood to return as normal to damaged areas of the brain will be crucial to stopping this devastating condition in its tracks.
‘Any drugs that are discovered to improve brain blood supply may also be able to open a new line of attack in treating Alzheimer’s disease, which causes very similar damage to blood vessels as vascular dementia.
‘Drugs to restore healthy blood flow could make current treatments, which focus on removing harmful amyloid plaques in the brain, more effective.’
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the BHF, said: ’Vascular dementia affects around 150,000 people in the UK, and this number is going up.
‘There are no treatments to slow or stop the disease, but we know that high blood pressure is an important risk factor. The incurable symptoms are hugely distressing for patients and those close to them.
‘This exciting research reveals a specific mechanism by which high blood pressure might increase the risk of vascular dementia.
‘Pinpointing how arteries remain permanently narrowed in vascular dementia could lead to the development of new effective treatments, raising hope that there may soon be a way to prevent this illness from destroying more lives.’
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.
There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective treatments can be.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society