Researchers investigate cause of stroke linked to dementia

29 October 2016        

Category: Research

Illustration of the brain

We're giving researchers at the University of Cambridge a new £1 million grant to search for the genetic causes of a type of stroke affecting around 35,000 people in the UK each year. The new research into lacunar stroke is being announced as part of our efforts to mark World Stroke Day.

A lacunar stroke is caused by damage to one of the small vessels deep within the brain that affects the flow of blood. This is known as small vessel disease of the brain (SVD). Lacunar stroke accounts for around one in five strokes and can lead to long-term disability. Researchers believe it could be an underlying cause of nearly half of all dementias.

Research is vital – there are currently few proven treatments for a lacunar stroke or to prevent the dementia it causes. A major reason for this is that we do not fully understand what causes the disease.

New treatments for lacunar stroke

This award from the BHF will allow the researchers to identify new causes of diseases such as SVD, which the researchers hope will lead to new treatments.

Working with researchers worldwide, as part of the International Stroke Genetics Consortium, they will look at the genetic code of 5,000 people who have had a lacunar stroke to discover new genes important in disease susceptibility. They will use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans to describe the pattern of brain damage in these participants. 

Screening existing medicines to treat stroke

The team also hope to use this genetic information to screen existing medicines to see if they may be helpful in lacunar stroke. By looking at genetic changes that mirror the biological effects of certain risk factors and comparing this with the amount and severity of strokes suffered, the researchers will be able to tell just how big a role these risk factors play in a person’s overall risk. If they are shown to be important then drugs targeting these risk factors are likely to be useful.

Fighting stroke - part of the BHF's mission

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said:

“Many of the known risk factors for stroke are also risk factors for heart disease, emphasising that similar biological processes affecting blood vessels in the brain and heart underlie the two conditions. 

“Fighting stroke is therefore an integral part of the BHF’s mission.  This new award will help shed light on the poorly understood causes of lacunar stroke and associated dementia, with the hope it will lead to new treatments in future.”   

Agnes' story

Agnes Nicolson from Edinburgh suffered from a lacunar stroke six years ago:

“After having a stroke I became so, so forgetful. Often I’ll forget words when I’m talking to people, which can be incredibly frustrating. I know what I want to say – but just can’t find the words to put my point across. Sometimes I’ll pick up the T.V remote control and I won’t remember how to use it. My mind goes completely blank and I panic a bit.

“I do worry about the future. It’s great to see that the BHF are funding research that could help people recover more fully from this type of stroke in the future.”

Help us to fund more life-saving research

The BHF currently funds more than £13 million of research into preventing and treating stroke, but this is only made possible by donations and support from the public.