London, July 5 : Stopping blood vessel cells from becoming dysfunctional may reverse the symptoms of small vessel disease (SVD) -- major cause of dementia and stroke -- and prevent brain damage in older adults, scientists have found.
The study, led by the University of Edinburgh, found that SVD occurs when cells that line the small blood vessels in the brain become dysfunctional causing them to secrete a molecule into the brain.
The molecule stops production of the protective layer that surrounds brain cells -- called myelin -- leading to brain damage.
"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," said Anna Williams from University of Edinburgh's MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Scotland.
"It also shows that these changes may be reversible, paving the way for potential treatments," Williams added.
In the study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the team used rat model and found that treating them with drugs that can reverse changes in blood vessels in the brain associated with cerebral small vessel disease.
"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," said Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research in Britain.
However, further studies are needed to test whether the treatment also works when the disease is firmly established, researchers said.
Dementia is one of the biggest problems facing society, as people live longer and the population ages.
Estimates indicate there are almost 47 million people living with dementia worldwide and the numbers affected are expected to double every 20 years, rising to more than 115 million by 2050.