Dundee researcher receives £235k funding boost for dementia science


By Quang Tran | Sunday 29 May 2022

Dementia Awareness Week 2022

A Scottish researcher based at the University of Dundee has received £235,000 to investigate how changes to the barrier between the blood supply and the brain contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. This funding boost forms part of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s £2 million commitment to 15 new research projects across the UK and is announced during Dementia Awareness Week (Monday 30 May – Friday 3 June).

Dr Fiona McLean is a neuroscientist working to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.

Amyloid is a hallmark protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers think that 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.

Blood vessels play a vital role in delivering oxygen to our 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.

In her Fellowship project, Dr Fiona McLean from University of Dundee 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 Fiona McLean from the University of Dundee 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.”


Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
Sara comments on morning sleep and dementia“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. To register your interest and Join Dementia Research you can call our team on 0300 111 5111 or email infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org


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Quang Tran