Fourth-year Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student Christopher Liao, focused his research project at the school on the disease, looking for how it may impact blood vessels in the brain, specifically in early stages of the disease. He carried out his research project under the mentorship of Ian Kimbrough, assistant professor in the School of Neuroscience in the College of Science.

“The pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease is not well understood, but one hypothesis is that it may be related to the build-up of plaques around the blood vessels in the brain,” Liao said. “Previous research has shown that these plaques originate from amyloid-beta, which is a natural protein created by the body, but if it accumulates to excessive levels, it can clump together and wrap around blood vessels to create a rigid cast.”

Kimbrough published a 2015 paper in the journal Brain that showed this amyloid cast prevents blood vessels from fully dilating and constricting, preventing neurons in the brain from getting the nutrients they need to perform optimally. Neurons transmit messages from different parts of the brain and from the brain to other parts of the body.

“It is like a runner running out of fuel. They need energy to perform. Neurons have to have enough fuel to process information to do a range of things like process visual information and sound and recall memories,” Kimbrough said.

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