The Open University and the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience have been awarded £750,000 by The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to research the effects of ageing on the blood vessels of the brain.
The researchers, working with the University of Sheffield, will look at how ageing changes the specialised functions of the cells which form blood vessels in the brain and to explore the mechanisms that lead to disease of brain blood vessels, such as small regulatory molecules called microRNAs that may induce dysfunction in the blood vessels.
Senior Lecturer in Cellular Neuroscience at The Open University Dr Nacho Romero, who is leading the study, said: "If we can find out when these changes occur and what role the microRNAs play, we can provide molecular targets for therapies aimed at preventing ageing of the blood vessels and possibly cerebrovascular disease later on in life."
The researchers will look specifically at what age brain dysfunction usually begins and how much microRNAs contribute to this process.
According to Dr Romero, the incidence of cerebrovascular disease such as stroke increases with age and an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke annually.
"We already know that the blood vessels of the brain behave differently from those in other organs in order to maintain the uniform environment nerve cells require to function properly," he said. "We also know that as people age, the endothelial cells which are the gatekeepers of the brain become leaky and this contributes to illness in old age."
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has more than 250,000 current students, including over 15,000 overseas.
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