A Scottish researcher based at the University of Dundee has received £235,000 to investigate how changes to the barrier between the blood supply and the brain contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. This funding boost forms part of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s £2 million commitment to 15 new research projects across the UK and is announced during Dementia Awareness Week (Monday 30 May – Friday 3 June).

Dr Fiona McLean is a neuroscientist working to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.

Amyloid is a hallmark protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers think that this sets off other damaging processes which lead to symptoms like memory loss and confusion. In 80-90% of Alzheimer’s cases, amyloid clumps are also found embedded in blood vessels in the brain.

Blood vessels play a vital role in delivering oxygen to our brain. But in the brain, there’s a specialised group of cells that forms a barrier between the blood vessels and the nerve cells. This layer of protection is called the ‘blood-brain barrier’. These cells determine what gets into the brain and what doesn’t.

In her Fellowship project, Dr Fiona McLean from University of Dundee will study the blood-brain barrier and how it acts differently in Alzheimer’s. The blood-brain barrier deteriorates in the disease, allowing toxic substances to enter the brain. Dr McLean will look at when and how the build-up of amyloid causes the blood-brain barrier to break down.

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