Vascular dementia

Our research is focussed on small vessel disease (SVD), one of the common most causes of dementia.

Dementia is one of the biggest problems facing society, as people live longer and the population ages. Estimates indicate there are almost 47 million people living with dementia worldwide and the numbers affected are expected to double every 20 years, rising to more than 115 million by 2050.

Small vessel disease is a major cause of dementia and can also worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It is responsible for almost half of all dementia cases in the UK and is a major cause of stroke, accounting for around one in five cases. Patients with SVD are diagnosed from brain scans, which detect damage to white matter – a key component of the brain’s wiring.

SVD often starts silently and builds up over several years before it is noticed by the affected person. SVD is still not fully understood, and prevention and treatment remain limited.

Work at CRM

Professor Anna Williams and her research group are exploring why small vessel disease happens and how it affects the brain.

The team have found that SVD occurs when cells that line the small blood vessels in the brain become dysfunctional. This causes them to secrete a molecule into the brain. The molecule stops production of the protective layer that surrounds brain cells – called myelin – which leads to brain damage.

This important research provides a direct link between small blood vessels and changes in the brain that are linked to dementia. The research also shows that these changes may be reversible, which paves the way for potential treatments.

Prof Anna Williams research group

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