The disease in question is called cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD).

In a paper now published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers led by Prof. Anna Williams, who heads the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the university, note how they studied molecular features of the disease in rats.

They made some important discoveries. They identified, for example, a mechanism through which blood vessel changes from CSVD harm the myelin covering of nerve fibers that carry signals between brain cells.

The scientists also showed how certain drugs reversed the blood vessel changes and prevented damage to the nerve fibers in the rats’ brains.

Brain scans of individuals with dementia often show abnormalities in white matter, which consists mostly of nerve fibers and their myelin covering.

But until this study, the underlying mechanisms implicating CSVD as a driver of myelin damage in white matter were unknown.

Should the mechanism be the same in human CSVD, these findings could pave the way to new treatments for dementia and stroke.

Dr. Sara Imarisio, who is head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK — one of the organizations that sponsored the study — says that the findings point to “a promising direction for research into treatments that could limit the damaging effects of blood vessel changes and help [to] keep nerve cells functioning for longer.”

Dementia is a major cause of disability

Dementia is a general term for a group of conditions in which brain function worsens over time. As the condition progresses, it diminishes ability to remember, think, interact socially, make decisions, and lead an independent life.

Worldwide, there are 50 million people with dementia and “10 million new cases every year.”

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