With every heartbeat, one quarter of all the blood in the body flows through the brain. This activity is essential for the health of neurons in the brain throughout life. Although scientists realize that understanding how to keep blood vessels in the brain healthy may offer new ways to treat brain disorders including Alzheimer’s Disease, a big challenge facing this area of inquiry is the lack of methods available to study the brain’s blood vessels outside of an animal model, which do not always mimic the human condition closely enough to provide answers that help to develop effective treatments for brain disorders.
Dr. Robert has to date made considerable progress in being able to grow functional, three-dimensional and human-derived cerebral blood vessels in vitro using tissue engineering technology, and has used these vessels to analyze the accumulation of beta-amyloid peptide, which is a pathological hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
The primary goal of Dr. Robert’s research, in collaboration with the Canadian Consortium of Neurodegeneration and Aging , is to use this novel platform to better understand how blood and brain lipoproteins affect human cerebral vessel health.
Although lipoproteins are traditionally known for their roles in carrying fats through aqueous body fluids, recent research has revealed that lipoproteins also influence inflammatory pathways and cellular signalling. Importantly, the composition of human lipoproteins are very different than their murine counterparts, and so far existing neurodegenerative disease mouse models have not been able to accurately model these differences.
Dr. Robert’s innovative platform allows for mechanistic studies in a fully human experimental system. As such, the major translational plan for this research will be to disseminate findings to the academic and clinical communities through publication and presentations. As Dr. Robert’s methods use many technologies already established in cardiovascular medicine, the results will also be of significant interest to the medical and research communities and drive accelerated progress toward understanding the contribution of cerebrovascular dysfunction to dementia.