Week 1: The Blood and the Brain – Partners in Crime?

Mar 10, 2020

My Senior Project came to a resounding halt just as I began to further explore Alzheimer’s disease. While I’d hoped to have engaged with my advisor at GWU Hospital, I was soon informed that the hospital was facing severe changes in order to cope with the current pandemic, and my project would have to be reworked. My heart dropped into my stomach when I received this information from my advisor, but I understood the magnitude of the situation our country is facing and I knew there were possibilities for me to explore this topic from home. There was still significant progress I had made with my project over the course of this week before receiving this news.

In preparation for my on-site observership and research, I began to analyze aspects of the relationship between, in layman’s terms, the heart and head. I actually went back and reviewed my proposal in order to do this. There were several cardiovascular abnormalities that I noted could have an effect on the emergence of neurodegenerative diseases. In fact, vascular dementia (VaD) is a type of neurodegenerative disease that is caused by damaged blood vessels, thus reducing blood flow to the brain. VaD, unlike AD, is often the result of a stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other conditions that damage the blood vessels. VaD patients reflect similar symptoms as AD patients however their pathologies are extremely different.

I believed, then, that my exploration of VaD resulted in a bit of a dead-end. I quickly figured that while the cognitive deficits might be similar between these two conditions, the underlying pathologies were different. I then looked to previous studies and textbooks for confirmation of this immediate conclusion. Fortunately for my independent research, I was wrong.

While AD is not a cerebrovascular disease, it might be worth noting that Aß amyloid degenerative changes affect the capillaries around them. As I did my independent research, I found in Memory Loss, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dementia A Practical Guide for Clinicians by Andrew E. Budson, Paul R. Solomon that the accumulation of amyloid precedes the emergence of AD by about 15 years. There clearly might be a relationship between these two that I’ve yet to explore. From here, I was surprised to discover new evidence which showed that Aß amyloid resulted in the emergence of hyperphosphorylated tau, which caused cell damage. Ultimately, the question I set myself to explore in future weeks was whether constricting blood flow to the brain was a contributing factor to the emergence of AD?

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