College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine


Understanding cerebral small vessel disease

A global study of a disease responsible for almost half of all dementias and a large proportion of stroke cases is being jointly coordinated by Professor Joanna Wardlaw.

Professor Joanna Wardlaw

The Fondation Leducq has awarded Professor Joanna Wardlaw and six collaborators from across Europe and North America a $6million grant to study the role of the perivascular space in cerebral small vessel disease.

Cerebral small vessel disease

Small vessel disease, a group of vascular disorders resulting from the pathological impairment of the small blood vessels of the brain, is strongly linked to causing some forms of dementia and stroke. These diseases have a huge social and economic impact.

There is currently no effective treatment for SVD and  researchers do not currently have a good understanding of its causes.

Brain scanning reveals enlarged spaces

Through use of a brain scanning technique used to diagnose patients, enlarged spaces surrounding blood vessels in the brain have been identified as a common feature of this disease.

A combined approach

By using a combination of disease models and patient studies, researchers will investigate why, and how these spaces are enlarged in SVD. This will help them to determine how these spaces contribute to the disease.

This approach will also further their understanding of the underlying mechanisms of SVD with the potential to reveal new treatment targets.

European Coordinator

Members of the Leducq study group

Professor Joanna Wardlaw, Chair of Applied Neuroimaging, has been appointed as European coordinator of the study. She will lead the research in collaboration with the North American coordinator, Professor Berislav Zlokovic of the University of Southern California.

The first meeting of the group took place in May 2017 at the University of Copenhagen. It allowed the group members to cement collaborations and was preceded by a symposium on small vessel disease funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Fondation Leducq

The funding of this study has been obtained from the Fondation Leducq Transatlantic Networks of Excellence Program which promotes international collaboration in the field and also provides support for the young researchers working on the project.

The mission of the Foundation is to improve human health through international efforts to combat cardiovascular and neurovascular disease.

World leading research at Edinburgh

This international collaboration is a key part of wider world leading research into SVD taking place at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Wardlaw and her team in the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences are also involved in the European Union Horizon 2020 funded project SVDs@Target.  This is a  programme of three studies that aim to:

  •  identify the mechanisms that cause changes to the blood vessels in SVD
  •  understand how this leads to stroke and other disease outcomes
  •  develop new treatments using a combination of basic and clinical research.

Upcoming recruitment

The team in Edinburgh will soon begin recruiting for their observational study, INVESTIGATE@SVDs,  in parallel with partners in Munich and Maastricht.

This will involve using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess alterations to the brain in SVD patients and how those relate to variability in blood pressure, a potential contributing factor to SVD.

Related links

Edinburgh Imaging

Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences

Foundation Leducq 

Visit the Foundation Leducq project page

Visit the SVDs@Target project page