Thanks to a £388k funding boost from Alzheimer’s Research UK, a team of researchers at the University of Bristol is embarking on a study to investigate the link between high blood pressure and dementia. Almost a third of men and women in the UK – around 16m people – have high blood pressure, and the condition is known to damage blood vessels in the brain as well as the body. By studying brain tissue in the laboratory, the scientists aim to understand better how this damage could drive Alzheimer’s disease, shedding light on preventative strategies for the disease.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a term used when a person’s blood pressure is over 140/90 mmHg. If too much pressure is created when the heart pumps blood around the body, it can put strain on blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. There is also evidence that high blood pressure, particularly in midlife, can raise the risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However the mechanism by which high blood pressure influences Alzheimer’s disease is largely unknown.
Prof Seth Love and his team at Bristol’s School of Clinical Sciences are just starting on a three-year study to find out more. He said:
“There are several theories about why high blood pressure might put someone at risk of Alzheimer’s and narrowing down the reason for the link can help to pinpoint the best ways to intervene. Our previous studies have shown that people with high blood pressure tend to have a greater build-up of a hallmark Alzheimer’s protein called amyloid in the brain. This amyloid build-up could happen as a result of too much of the protein being made, too little being broken down or a fault in how it’s cleared out of the brain through blood vessels. We need to understand more about why and how this Alzheimer’s protein accumulates in the brain and what we could do to prevent it.”
The £388k funding boost – part of £9.3m committed by the charity to new research projects last year – will allow the team to study generously donated brain tissue from people with high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s. They will study the biochemistry of the brain, as well as looking at its structure under the microscope, measuring whether high blood pressure had affected blood flow, blood vessel damage, and levels of the amyloid protein. They will use these experiments to build a bigger picture of what damage high blood pressure causes in the brain and how this could drive Alzheimer’s.
Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“With an increasingly ageing population, it’s important that we understand more about the factors influencing the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s, as well as learning more about the best approaches to maintain a healthy brain into later life. High blood pressure affects millions of people in the UK and is a known risk factor for dementia. This study has the potential to tell us more about how blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease are linked, as well as identifying stages where we could intervene most effectively to limit the damage of high blood pressure on the brain.
“Over 5m people in this country have high blood pressure without realising it, so it’s important to have blood pressure checked regularly. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are caused by complex mix of risk factors including age, genetics and lifestyle. While we can’t change our genetics, evidence suggests that keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and staying mentally and physically active could all help keep the brain healthy.”