As a neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s is known for damaging neurons, which are the nerve cells of the brain. Neurons depend on oxygen and glucose carried through the brain’s blood vessels, or vascular system. Neurons' energy needs are great because the brain consumes more energy than any other human organ, up to 20 percent of the body's total supply.

The brain relies heavily on an intricately laced system of arteries, veins, and capillaries that, in adult brains, stretches an estimated 100 miles in length. For protection, the brain’s circulatory system is sealed off from that of the rest of the body by a special blood-brain barrier that helps prevent bacteria, viruses, and other toxic substances from entering.

Together, the brain’s vascular system and protective barrier are important to Alzheimer’s research because it is key to keeping neurons healthy.

BrightFocus-funded projects are studying capillary stalling in Alzheimer’s disease, which reduces brain blood flow and increases the risk for dementia. Evidence from mice suggests it’s not driven by diet and obesity alone, and a targeted treatment could help.