UK Sanders-Brown researchers get closer to predicting dementia

Young male scientist making notes while looking trough a microscope

Research at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has identified two potential ways to predict vascular cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID) – the second leading cause of dementia behind Alzheimer's disease.

What is VCID?

VCID results from injuries to the vessels that supply blood to the brain, which can be caused by mini-strokes and by risk factors that are also known to cause heart disease or stroke. These risk factors include high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes. About 10 percent of all dementia cases are caused by VCID, while Alzheimer's accounts for between 60 and 80 percent. Sometimes Alzheimer's and VCID can occur simultaneously, which is known as mixed vascular dementia.

Currently, diagnosis for VCID is limited to clinical signs of dementia and MRI imaging, which is expensive and usually occurs too late in the disease process to treat effectively. 

"Without a definitive method to diagnose VCID early in disease progression, we can't proceed to the next step, which is to identify treatments," said Donna Wilcock, PhD, Sweeney-Nelms Professor at Sanders-Brown and co-principal investigator with Dr. Greg Jicha. "Since most people develop some level of VCID as they age, the ability to identify and treat this disease will have a profound impact on the health and independence of our aging population."

The study

Sanders-Brown researcher Tiffany Lee analyzed 29 proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid and blood plasma from 115 individuals with cognitive impairment. From that, she was able to identify a collection of seven features that predicted cognitive impairment with an 86 percent accuracy.  

Three additional features provide a 50 percent predictive value for white matter hyperintensity volume, which is one measure of damage to the brain’s blood vessels that can cause VCID.

The study was funded by a $3.6 million grant from the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which established the Small Vessel VCID Biomarkers Consortium (MarkVCID) two years ago. 

Sanders-Brown was one of just seven sites selected for the five-year NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grant. The other sites are Boston University, Rush University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Southern California, University of California – San Francisco/University of California – Davis and the University of New Mexico. 

"The next steps are to cross-validate these findings through the consortium and, if the data holds true, submit an application to the FDA approval," said Lee. "If all goes according to plan, this test might be available for use by 2025."

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.