Dundee academic secures £235,000 in funding to research causes of Alzheimer’s disease

A researcher in Scotland has received almost a quarter of a million pounds to investigate how changes to the barrier between the blood supply and the brain contributes to Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Fiona McLean is a neuroscientist based at Dundee University’s School of Medicine.

She works to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, the disease affects nearly one million people in the UK, including around 90,000 in Scotland alone.

As part of a commitment from the charity to give £2m to 15 new projects across the country researching the disease, Dr McLean has received £235,000 for her work.

Her focus will be on the blood-brain barrier and how it acts differently in Alzheimer’s.

According to research, blood vessels play a vital role in delivering oxygen to the brain, but, in the brain, there is a specialised group of cells that form a barrier between the blood vessels and the nerve cells.

This layer of protection is called the “blood-brain barrier”, and these cells determine what gets into the brain and what does not.

Some researchers say the blood-brain barrier deteriorates in people with Alzheimer’s, allowing toxic substances to enter the brain.

Dr McLean will look at when and how the build-up of amyloid, a waxy, translucent substance, composed primarily of protein fibres, that can build up in the brains of people with the disease, causes the blood-brain barrier to break down.

Some researchers believe this sets off damaging processes which lead to symptoms like memory loss and confusion.

And they say 80-90% of Alzheimer’s cases, amyloid clumps are also found embedded in blood vessels in the brain.

The aim is to find ways to reverse these changes in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and keep the brain healthy.

Dr McLean 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 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: “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 [email protected].”

The funding announcement comes to mark the start of Dementia Awareness Week.

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