July 5 (UPI) -- Treating rats with drugs to stop small blood vessel cells from becoming dysfunctional reversed the symptoms of the disease in the brain that often leads to dementia and strokes, researchers report in a new study.
Researchers led by the University of Edinburgh in London found the therapy can halt changes in the brain associated with cerebral small vessel disease. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Previous studies have reported that SVD leads to to one in five strokes worldwide and is a major source of cognitive decline in seniors.
"This important research helps us understand why small vessel disease happens, providing a direct link between small blood vessels and changes in the brain that are linked to dementia," Dr. Anna Williams, group leader at the University of Edinburgh's Medical Research Council Center for Regenerative Medicine, said in a press release. "It also shows that these changes may be reversible, which paves the way for potential treatments."
Patients are diagnosed with cerebral small vessel disease from a brain scan that detects damage to white matter.
For the first time, researchers found how changes in the small blood vessels associated with SVD damage brain cells.
They found a molecule seeps into the brain and stops production of the protective layer that surrounds brain cells -- myelin -- leading to brain damage.
Rats treated with endothelial cell-stabilizing drugs stopped the blood vessel cells from becoming dysfunctional. The type of drugs capable of doing so include beta blockers and statins.
"The findings highlight a promising direction for research into treatments that could limit the damaging effects of blood vessel changes and help keep nerve cells functioning for longer," Dr. Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said. "There are currently no drugs that slow down or stop Alzheimer's disease and no treatments to help people living with vascular dementia.