Vascular dementia research

There’s no cure for vascular dementia. People with the condition can be prescribed drugs to help control their blood pressure, reduce clots and reduce their cholesterol levels if they are high, which can slow down the progression of the disease. But beyond this there’s nothing doctors can do, yet. We’re funding research that could change this, and bring hope to people affected by this disease.

What is vascular dementia?

Vascular dementia happens when the blood supply to the brain becomes limited. This means some parts of the brain do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients and the brain cells start to die. This leads to a loss of brain function. The symptoms of vascular dementia include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, affecting around 150,000 people in the UK.

Learn about the symptoms and causes of vascular dementia

The brain’s plumbing system

Dr Roxana Carare from the University of Southampton thinks vascular dementia happens because the brain can’t get rid of waste and fluid properly. The brain removes waste by draining it out of extremely thin pathways embedded in the walls of blood vessels. The Southampton team believes these pathways are not anchored securely to the blood vessel walls in vascular dementia.

In a joint project funded by us, the Stroke Association and Alzheimer’s Society, Dr Carare and her team are studying waste elimination in mice - comparing them to human brains with vascular dementia. This work could lead to new treatments that target the drainage of waste from the brain, to stop or slow down vascular dementia.

Getting to the root of the problem

Cerebral small vessel disease is a group of conditions that affects the small vessels of the brain. It causes a quarter of all strokes and puts people at increased risk of developing vascular dementia. Professor Hugh Markus at the University of Cambridge is studying this disease. His team are collaborating with international scientists, collecting data from 5,000 patients with small vessel disease (SVD) to study exactly how it affects the human brain. The team will analyse MRI scans to see how small vessel disease affects the brain, they’ll also search for genes which may cause SVD. The scientists hope to use this knowledge to develop new, more effective treatments.

How stroke can affect our memory

Another pioneering vascular dementia research project is led by Professor Joanna Wardlaw at the University of Edinburgh. She and her colleagues are trying to predict who’s at risk of developing vascular dementia after suffering a stroke.

The team are collecting information from hospital records, and performing thinking and memory tests on 2,000 people who have suffered a stroke. They’re also collecting blood samples and carrying out brain scans to look for measurements that could act as markers for vascular dementia. This work could help doctors better detect cognitive problems and help them decide on the best care for each individual patient.