The researchers aim to find out how damage to blood vessels in the brain may affect the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition they aim to develop better ways to measure vascular changes in the brain using MRI scans. Altogether they hope to enhance the ability of doctors and researchers to detect changes and consequent symptoms in patients, over the course of their disease.
Many people with Alzheimer’s have blood vessel damage in their brains as well as the presence of the hallmark Alzheimer’s proteins, amyloid and tau. Researchers believe that this damage to blood vessels may affect the progression of the disease at its very early stages, leading to a different prognosis for these patients. However, currently it is unclear how exactly this occurs. By studying blood vessel damage in detail, and its contribution to Alzheimer’s disease, the project will help answer these questions, aiding the development of new and more effective treatments and diagnoses.
The research team will collect data from people with Alzheimer’s over one year to observe changes in blood vessels over the course of the disease. These changes will be compared with brain volume as well as performance on memory and thinking tests in order to observe how blood vessel damage may be influencing the progression of the disease. They will also measure levels of amyloid and tau to investigate whether blood vessel damage could be influencing the disease independently of levels of these proteins in the brain.
Over the past year Dr Barnes’ work has been progressing well. She has employed a Research Assistant and part-time PhD student, Cassidy Fiford, to help in driving her work forward. Together with collaborators they have developed and refined a range of cutting-edge techniques to detect changes in the blood supply to the brain, including identifying damage to blood vessels deep inside the brain. They have been doing this by analysing brain scans for ‘white matter hyperintensities’ – white flecks on brain scans that indicate damage to the nerve cell fibres that pass across the brain. These can be an indicator of blood vessel damage and using these techniques, they have already produced some interesting early insights into how these changes may relate to Alzheimer’s.
Dr Josephine Barnes
University College London, Institute of Neurology
1 August 2013 - 31 January 2017
Full project name
Measuring, tracking and disentangling the impact of white matter disease in AD and mixed disease: A longitudinal study