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Brain scan image showing toxic proteins

The EMI's Vascular Health theme aims to evaluate vascular risk factors and dementia, taking a bench-bedside-population approach – from genes to 'big data'. The ultimate goal is to understand the vascular contribution to brain health and optimise interventional trials in the quest to find disease-modifying treatments for dementia.

Vascular health workshop 

DPUK and UK DRI held a joint workshop on experimental models in vascular disease and cognitive impairment at the University of Manchester from 17-18 March 2022. The event was attended by more than 50 researchers from all career stages and will be followed by outputs including a proceedings paper, collaborative grant applications, and the establishment of working groups in a number of areas.

Click here for more information about the workshop.


Blood vessel with white matter and dilated spaceVascular disease increases steeply with age and combines with neurodegenerative pathologies (notably, Alzheimer's disease) to accelerate cognitive decline. Recent trials and large cohorts (SPRINT-MIND, INFINITY, FINGER, Ontario Health Registry, ADNI) implicate cardiovascular risk factors in cognitive decline. As cardiovascular risk is modifiable, through lifestyle and medication, there is potential to slow cognitive decline by focusing on cardiovascular health.

The most prevalent vascular cause of cognitive impairment is cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), a group of diseases affecting the smallest blood vessels in the brain. SVD is seen on brain scans as white matter hyperintensities (areas of increased brightness), lacunes (fluid-filled cavities), microbleeds, and enlarged perivascular spaces (fluid-filled areas surrounding blood vessels), and can present with a variety of clinical symptoms.

Theme objectives

Image showing features of a brain scan in bright coloursWe are using large, multi-modal datasets held in the DPUK Data Portal or supplied by individual teams working in this area. Analysis of these datasets allows us to generate mechanistic hypotheses, to shortlist potential treatments, and to optimise the design of interventional studies. 

The programme will deliver evidence for stratifying vascular risk and identify pharmacologically tractable vascular targets related to dementia. Researchers will share novel imaging and genetic data via the DPUK Data Portal. The theme aims to bring forward plausible cardiovascular drug targets for assessment in clinical trials.

As well as funding discrete experimental studies, DPUK oversees the running of a wider Vascular Health network, which benefits from multidisciplinary expertise and includes international leaders in dementia and stroke medicine, neuroimaging, drug trials, neuropathology and translational biology. The group has representation from centres of excellence across the UK. We are keen to develop capacity and raise standards in vascular-brain research. To this end we hold workshops and publish best practice guidance.

Work with us

We actively encourage collaboration with industry partners. We are currently discussing projects with SloWave Therapeutics and Corvidane Bio. Previous partners include GlaxoSmithKline and Araclon Technologies.

The DPUK Vascular Health network has an active LinkedIn group that welcomes new members from academia, industry and funding bodies with an interest in vascular health and dementia.

Current work packages

1. Early vascular lesion MRI biomarkers and dementia risk (Professor Joanna Wardlaw, University of Edinburgh)

2. Identifying potential drug targets using Mendelian randomization (Professor Hugh Markus, University of Cambridge)

3. Identifying the most promising cardiovascular drugs for a cognitive endpoint trial (Dr Terry Quinn, University of Glasgow)

Read more: Could drugs that manage heart disease be used to treat dementia?


A photograph of Atticus Hainsworth.The EMI's Vascular Health theme is led by Dr Atticus Hainsworth (St George's, University of London). 

Full list of network members:

Prof Stuart Allan University of Manchester University of Manchester logo
Prof Philip Bath University of Nottingham University of Nottingham logo
Dr Tom Blackburn TPBioventures TPBioventures logo
Dr Zameel Cader University of Oxford University of Oxford logo
Prof Roxana Carare University of Southampton University of Southampton logo
Dr Atticus Hainsworth St George's, University of London St George's University of London logo
Prof Karen Horsburgh University of Edinburgh University of Edinburgh logo
Prof Raj Kalaria Newcastle University Newcastle University logo
Prof James Leiper British Heart Foundation British Heart Foundation logo
Prof Seth Love University of Bristol University of Bristol logo
Prof Clare Mackay University of Oxford University of Oxford logo
Prof Hugh Markus University of Cambridge Cambridge University logo
Dr Bernadette McGuinness Queen's University Belfast Queen's University Belfast logo
Dr Richard Oakley Alzheimer's Society Alzheimer's Society logo
Prof John O'Brien University of Cambridge Cambridge University logo
Dr Terry Quinn University of Glasgow University of Glasgow logo
Prof Joanna Wardlaw University of Edinburgh University of Edinburgh logo
Prof David Werring UCL University College London logo
Prof Steve Williams King's College London Kings College London logo