$9.6 million grant to fund research on vascular risk factors for brain aging, dementia

The Stanford project, led by neuroscientists Tony Wyss-Coray and Marion Buckwalter, will focus on the influence of immune factors and systemic inflammation on the brain.

An interdisciplinary team of School of Medicine researchers has received a four-year, $9.6 million grant to probe the interactions between the brain and blood vessels in order to develop a better understanding of age-related brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

The Stanford team, which includes 13 faculty members, is one of only three groups nationwide to receive such an award from the American Heart Association-Allen Initiative in Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment, a collaborative funding initiative sponsored by the AHA and the Paul G. Allen Initiative, a division of the Allen Institute.

The project will focus on the influence of immune factors and systemic inflammation on the brain, said principal investigator Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences. The goal is to uncover molecules in the blood that affect cerebrovascular and brain health in aging and in people with vascular risk factors, including stroke and obesity. 

The number of individuals suffering from age-related cognitive impairment and dementia is reaching unprecedented levels, Wyss-Coray said.

“We will study extensively a cohort of 400 participants with vascular cognitive impairment or with a risk of cognitive impairment, using various ‘omics’ approaches to identify potential new biological pathways and molecular targets, with the ultimate goal of moving new treatments into clinical studies,” he said.

The grant’s scientific co-PI, Marion Buckwalter, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences and of neurosurgery, noted that age and vascular risk factors are common to most people with dementia.

“Although a lot of research has been done into genetic causes of Alzheimer’s disease, relatively less attention has been directed to vascular causes,” Buckwalter said. “In fact, a majority of people with dementia have some vascular pathology in their brains. We will study people at high risk of developing dementia, and also animal models, to find which bloodborne molecules affect cerebrovascular function and cognition. A major next step will be developing new treatments to prevent dementia, and this grant will enable us to get to this step.”

Funding from Stanford’s Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute to both Wyss-Coray and Buckwalter funded foundational studies that led to the new research proposal.

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