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Treating vascular disease has huge potential to improve the cognitive health of people around the world, according to a special issue of a major new journal edited by DPUK researcher Dr Atticus Hainsworth.

A graphic of the outline of the head and brain, overlaid with a network of blood vessels.

Titled ‘Treatment Approaches in Vascular Cognitive Impairment’, the special issue focuses on how the network of blood vessels in the human body (the vascular system) contributes to thinking problems and dementia – and presents a multifaceted target for treatment.

Writing in their introductory article to the special edition of Cerebral Circulation – Cognition and Behaviour (CCCB), Dr Hainsworth and colleagues say the burden of vascular cognitive impairment and dementia will be reduced in the next five to ten years through cost-effective lifestyle interventions, repurposed drugs, and novel therapeutics.

Dr Hainsworth is a neuroscientist at St George’s, University of London and leads the Vascular Health theme in DPUK’s Experimental Medicine Incubator. In the introductory article of the special issue, Dr Hainsworth notes the varying susceptibility of different populations to vascular disease and presents this as an opportunity to address health inequity.

The special issue also features submissions from several other members of DPUK’s Vascular Health Network, including Professor Joanna Wardlaw. Professor Wardlaw works at the Brain Research Imaging Centre at University of Edinburgh and co-authored a paper for the special issue detailing the protocol of INVESTIGATE-SVDs. The protocol explains that the INVESTIGATE-SVDs study will use advanced MRI brain scans to study in detail how the smallest blood vessels in the brain are functioning in people with damage to them, which leads to cerebral small vessel disease. If you would like to know about Professor Wardlaw’s other work, read this news piece that details her DPUK-funded project on stroke and vascular dementia

Dr Terry Quinn is another member of DPUK’s Vascular Health Network featured in the issue, having co-authored a large review and analysis of research on nootropics to treat cognitive disorders. Nootropics – commonly known as ‘smart drugs’ – are a type of cognitive enhancing drug that may have the potential to treat all forms of dementia, especially vascular cognitive impairment. Dr Quinn’s review concludes that, while the evidence is inconclusive, it is promising enough to justify large-scale clinical studies of nootropics to treat dementia. Dr Quinn is currently researching how drugs that manage heart disease could be repurposed to treat dementia – read more about this work here.

Although not linked to DPUK, another paper published in the special issue investigated an adapted form of tango dancing as an intervention to protect against dementia. The participants in the study were all female African Americans with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, as they are at particularly high risk of developing dementia. The results of the study were very positive, with subjects showing less inflammation in their brains and improved thinking skills. To learn more about dementia and dance, read this DPUK blog post.

The varied collection of features in the special issue offers a broad look at the current research landscape of vascular cognitive impairment. Keep an eye on the DPUK news section for updates on the ongoing work of the Vascular Health Network.