Influence of Atherosclerosis on Brain Structure, Cognitive Function, and Dementia
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is increasingly recognized as an important risk factor for dementia. Yet, it remains unclear whether the progression of atherosclerosis at different locations in the arterial system also contributes to changes in the structure or function of the brain, and ultimately to dementia. Knowledge of the dynamics of atherosclerosis and its role in brain changes will greatly improve our insight into the development of dementia. At a later point, this knowledge may even offer therapeutic or preventive opportunities to reduce the number of persons suffering from dementia by targeting atherosclerosis.
During the past decades, the role of atherosclerosis – or hardening of the arteries – as an important risk factor for dementia has increasingly been recognized. As such, atherosclerosis has been repeatedly linked to changes in brain structure (for example brain atrophy), cognitive deterioration, and dementia. Interestingly, there have been no studies on investigating the influence of changes (mainly progression) in atherosclerosis over time with brain structure, cognition or dementia. Yet, this would provide crucial information on the dynamics of atherosclerosis, its role in the etiology of dementia, and may ultimately reveal potential pathways for therapeutic interventions.
Against this background, the current project is aimed at elucidating the role of changes in atherosclerosis in the development of brain changes, cognitive performance, and dementia.
The proposed study will be the largest population-based study to date providing unique information on the natural course of atherosclerosis in different important large vessel beds over a timespan of more than 10 years, and its influence on structural brain changes, cognition, and dementia
About the Researcher
My research focuses on the interface of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, with a strong emphasis on imaging. Specifically, I aim to obtain relevant biomarkers for improved understanding and prediction of these diseases, and to identify potential targets for intervention strategies.
Against this background, I have gained broad experience in the application and acquisition of multi-modal imaging on the population-level, and performed important pioneering-work on the identification and quantification of specific imaging-based biomarkers of vascular disease. Specifically, my work on intracranial carotid artery calcification as important risk factor for stroke and dementia has had considerable impact, and has also led to an extension of my research horizon towards clinical studies on the value of carotid artery calcification in stroke patients. I currently lead a research team consisting of one PhD student, five MSc students, and one research staff member.
The multidisciplinary aspect of my research allowed me to establish close collaborations with the departments of Biomedical Engineering, Cardiology and Neurology within the Erasmus Medical College during the past years. I have also extended my collaborations outside of Erasmus to the University of Valladolid (Prof. Arenillas), the AsIA-Barcelona Study in Spain (Prof. Davalos), the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (Prof. Barreto), and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Prof. Hofman), which allow a wide utilization of my research.
During the past years I was awarded the Best Scientific Paper Award of the Dutch Society of Radiology (2011), the Van Leersum Fellowship of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science (2015), and the Lourens Penning Prize of the Dutch Society of Radiology (2016).
I have been working on the interface of vascular disease and dementia for over 6 years, because I firmly believe that the condition of the blood vessels is key to the development of dementia. If we, in future, can make sure that the blood vessels remain healthy during aging, we may be able to reduce the occurrence of dementia substantially. I would like to thank the BrightFocus Foundation and its donors who support the ADR grant program for providing me with the possibility to carry out my research which hopefully furthers our insight into the devastating dementia syndrome.
First published on: February 7, 2018
Last modified on: December 30, 2019