Vascular Pathology in Alzheimer’s Disease

Back to feature: The Complex Nature of the Brain

Who? Dr. Edith Hamel is a Full Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University. She directs the cerebrovascular research laboratory at the Montreal Neurological Institute (“the Neuro”).

What’s the issue?
In our aging society, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is affecting a growing number of people, and medicine currently has very little to offer them. In addition to memory impairments, most AD patients also display cerebrovascular pathology. This pathology gradually leads to reduced brain perfusion and reduced delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the neurons that control the patient’s activities throughout the day. With aging, cardiovascular disease represents one of the greatest risk factors for developing AD at an advanced age. More and more evidence suggests the importance of treating AD risk factors as early as possible in order to delay the onset of the disease, even if by only a few years, which would have a major impact on patients’ life expectancy and quality of life.

What's the research?
With funding from CIHR, we are continuing our research on the protective effect that certain medications normally used to treat high cholesterol or high blood pressure may have, both against cerebrovascular deficits and against memory impairments, in transgenic mice used as an animal model for AD. Certain compounds have a beneficial effect on memory, but for only a limited time, which suggests a treatment window during which the neural circuits involved in memory can still recover their ability to function. Our research is aimed at understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which medications designed to treat cardiovascular diseases preserve the cerebral circulation and neuronal functions that are essential for the forming of memories.

What's the impact?
Our research should help to better target the opportunities to treat those patients who are at the highest risk of developing AD as they age. In particular, our studies should let us identify classes of molecules that offer protective effects, understand how these protective effects occur, and also understand why certain medications have a very clearly defined time window in which they can be used therapeutically. We hope that this research will let us identify new treatment approaches to protect the populations at risk of developing AD.

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