Why is this research important?
This unique study matters because dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK and has a personal, societal and economic impact that is likely to touch the lives of almost all of us. An ageing population means the number of people effected is likely to grow with every passing year. With nearly one third of dementia cases worldwide attributable to lifestyle factors that could be modified, the need to gain a better and fuller understanding of the links between cardiovascular issues and brain health has never been greater.
What are we doing?
This project investigates the heart-brain link in dementia. It is based at the Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity (part of the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging), and run in collaboration with a team of cardiologists and epidemiologists at University College London (UCL).
Scheduled to run from 2019 to 2022, the Heart-Brain study is part of an Alzheimer’s Society Research Fellowship granted to Sana Suri. The study has its origins in the Whitehall II Study (UCL), as part of which 10,000 UK civil servants have been monitored for heart health every five years since 1985. The Whitehall II Imaging Sub-study, conducted between 2012 and 2016, conducted brain MRI scans and cognitive tests with 800 volunteers from the larger study. The Heart-Brain study will recall 140 of these volunteers for additional brain, heart and cognitive scans and tests, allowing Dr Suri and her team to discern longer-term trends, patterns and indicators.
A unique aspect of this project is the use of an innovative MRI scanning technique. During the scan, volunteers breathe air with a higher percentage of carbon-dioxide. This recreates the effects of light-exercise and the team is able to gauge the brain’s reaction to these conditions in people who do not have Alzheimer’s but are at higher risk of developing dementia because of lifestyle reasons.
What do we hope to achieve?
Using volunteers from the Whitehall II Imaging Sub-study and unique techniques such as the C02-rich MRI scan, the team is gaining a broader, more balanced understanding of the key questions: how, why and when heart health affects brain health.
As the study progresses, the results could help us optimize the timing of cardiovascular interventions and potentially help delay or prevent the onset of dementia.