Pioneering Alzheimer’s research could help find new treatments

A leading dementia researcher at the OU has secured nearly £370k of funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK for a ground-breaking new research project which may pave the way for new treatments.

Dr Cheryl Hawkes and her team are studying how a protein called amyloid is cleared from blood vessels in the brain and how this process goes wrong in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the result of physical changes that take place in the brain. A build-up of the amyloid protein is an early feature of the disease, and leads to other brain changes, damage to nerve cells and devastating symptoms like memory loss and personality change. Clearing amyloid from the brain could be an important way to prevent Alzheimer’s and Dr Hawkes will investigate how processes involved in regulating blood flow could play an important role in this clearance.

Clearing amyloid proteins from the brain

Dr Hawkes said: “Blood flow in the brain is controlled by the release of chemical messengers from nerve cells that are damaged in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. We hope to discover whether a loss of communication between nerve cells and blood vessels could lead to a build-up of amyloid and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and a related disease called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA).

“We also plan to look at whether drugs that increase levels of these chemical messengers could improve the function of blood vessels and clear amyloid more effectively. We hope our findings will highlight the potential for using drugs that are already approved for conditions such as depression, in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and CAA. We are extremely grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for funding this important work.”

Crucial project for understanding dementia

Alzheimers Research UK logo

Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This innovative project will help shed new light on what is currently a poorly understood process which could have an important role to play in maintaining a healthy brain as people age. Projects like this one are crucial for building our understanding of the diseases that cause dementia. We hope the knowledge gained from this study will help to pave the way to new treatments to help the 850,000 people affected by the condition nationally, nearly 7,000 of whom are living in Buckinghamshire.

“While awareness of dementia has been growing in recent years, funding for dementia research still lags far behind that of other conditions like cancer. Alzheimer’s Research UK doesn’t receive any government funding for the research projects we fund, so we’re very grateful to our supporters who make work like this possible.”

The project is being funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the country’s leading dementia research charity, which relies entirely on public donations to fund its research. The charity is currently funding over £26 million of research across the UK including over half a million pounds at The Open University.