News items Tiny blood vessels, big problems

3 November 2021

The Radboudumc, together with the University of Cambridge, receives a grant of 1.8 million euros from three collaborating cardiac foundations for international research into the small blood vessels in the brain. Neurologist Frank-Erik de Leeuw and internist Niels Riksen will jointly investigate the role of inflammation and the immune system in what goes wrong in these tiny brain vessels, which can lead to strokes and diseases such as dementia.  

This research revolves around the tiny blood vessels in our brains. These are very important to supply our brain with oxygen, but in many people they do not work optimally. This can lead to cerebral small vessel disease, a brain disease that causes all kinds of symptoms, ranging from memory problems to dementia and Parkinsonism. It also causes over 25% of all brain infarcts and the majority of all brain haemorrhages.

There is no good treatment yet, because scientists do not yet understand exactly what goes wrong in those cerebral vessels. The international team, consisting of research leaders neurologist Frank-Erik de Leeuw, internist Niels Riksen and researchers from the University of Cambridge, will investigate this in detail over the next few years. They have hypothesized that the immune system, which protects the body from outside bacteria and viruses, plays a role in the development of small vessel disease.

By gaining a better understanding of how the immune system works, the researchers hope to gain more insight into the origins of this disease. Frank-Erik de Leeuw: "This grant provides a wonderful impetus to further expand a long-standing collaboration between Niels and me and to make maximum use of our complementary expertise in order to jointly find new treatments for patients with small vessel disease."
Niels Riksen: "Together with top researchers from Cambridge, we can look in great detail at how the immune system works in patients with small vessel disease; we expect this to lead to unique new insights into this disease."

This study is funded by the Heart Foundation, working with British and German colleagues, namely the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Deutsches Zentrum für Herz-Kreislauf-Forschung (DZHK). It is expected that this international collaboration will provide new insights that the countries individually would not achieve - or would be much less likely to achieve. The cooperation partners in Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands all have specific knowledge, which is now being brought together for the first time.

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Pauline Dekhuijzen

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