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New funding to tackle causes of dementia

Alzheimer's Research UK funds project investigating the role of the immune system in the development of vascular dementia.

October 2015

Dr Barry McColl at The Roslin Institute along with collaborator Prof Karen Horsburgh at the Centre for Neuroregeneration, University of Edinburgh, have been awarded a £100k grant from Alzheimer's Research UK to investigate the causes of vascular dementia - the second biggest form of dementia in the UK.

Vascular dementia is caused by reductions in blood flow to the brain, but the biology underpinning the condition is poorly understood. Barry McColl and colleagues want to understand the body's inflammatory response to reduced brain blood flow. They are particularly interested in a protein called TREM2, which regulates the brain's unique immune response to damage. When TREM2 doesn't work properly, the brain's immune response goes awry, causing more harm than good. Through this project, the team aims to determine whether TREM2 could be the missing link between disrupted blood flow and memory and thinking difficulties.

Changes in blood flow to the brain can lead to problems with brain function, including glitches in nerve cell communication. We know that as we age, blood flow to the brain reduces, with damaging consequences for nerve cell health and a knock-on effect on memory and thinking skills. With this new funding, our team will zero in on the inflammatory cascade of events ignited by poor blood flow, with the hope of boosting our understanding of vascular dementia and highlighting possible approaches to halt nerve cell damage.

Dr McCollThe Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh


Dementia is a heart-breaking condition and one that affects over 6000 families in Edinburgh city alone. Yet research does not receive the investment and resources desperately needed to halt the brain diseases that cause dementia. This new funding will not only boost dementia research capacity, but will enable the team to delve into an often overlooked area of dementia research. While there has been a flurry of activity in recent years to investigate the brain's immune system in Alzheimer's disease, less is known about this process in vascular dementia. Through investing in young scientific talent, novel expertise and pioneering research, Alzheimer's Research UK will find a way to tackle our greatest medical challenge head on.

Dr Emma O'BrienAlzheimer's Research UK