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Many studies indicate that there may be links between heart health and brain health, and this connection may be a promising new avenue in research and development for treatments for brain diseases. DPUK-funded researchers are using large imaging datasets to look for early indicators of brain changes that show up in other organs too.

Brain scans

What are the researchers trying to find out?

The team is trying to uncover the mechanisms that might link heart health with brain health by investigating brain and heart scans. They are looking for early indicators of adverse brain changes which might be coupled across the organs. Identifying these early signs could potentially give additional motivation for protecting brain function by keeping the heart healthy.

Working with imaging data: heart and brain

The team first reviewed a number of previous studies which suggested that there may be links between abnormally high blood pressure and structural changes in the brain. By reviewing over 22,000 brain scans and comparing this to recorded measures of blood pressure, they found that while abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension) is associated with damage to structure of the brain, it is likely that factors such as inflammation and genetics are also involved. The team’s meta-analysis is now being peer reviewed. 

Deriving new data

Brain scan data is rich in the detail which can help researchers understand the precise biological mechanisms involved in the development of disease. The team is completing detailed brain structural measurements, creating a database of new measures which they will share with the original cohort – UKBiobank – for the research community to use.

It's important for researchers to test that their methods are valid. As part of their work with the UK Biobank brain scans, the team tested that the methods they used for deriving key brain measurements from these images were reliable. The results of this work are published in their paper in Human Brain Mapping.

What happens next?

The researchers are continuing to investigate how the new measures they have derived are associated with cognitive test scores and mental health records, looking to detect any influences from the heart's health.