Auckland scientists make world-first breakthrough that could help treat dementia

Scientists make world-first breakthrough that could help treat dementia after discovering blood flow sensors in the brain

  • Breakthrough study open way for new ways to treat dementia and migraines 
  • University of Auckland-led research identified blood flow sensors within brain
  • Research found a new function of tiny star-shaped cells called astrocytes

By Kylie Stevens For Daily Mail Australia

Published: | Updated:

The treatment of dementia, migraines and strokes could change forever, thanks to a world-first breakthrough discovery by New Zealand scientists. 

A research collaboration involving scientists from the University of Auckland, University College London, and Bristol University has been hailed as the first ever to identify blood flow sensors within the brain.

The revolutionary research has opened the way for new possible treatments for serious illnesses including dementia, high blood pressure, and migraines.

Scientists have suspected for decades the brain had a way of monitoring and regulating its own blood flow separate from the body-wide blood pressure control system but had been unsuccessful in proving so, until now. 

A new study could change the way dementia and other brain illnesses is treated (stock image)

The study led by University of Auckland professor Julian Paton found a new function of tiny star-shaped cells called astrocytes, which controls brain blood flow. 

‘What we have discovered is that the brain has an automatic way to make sure that brain blood flow is preserved,’ he said. 

‘Unfortunately, in pathological conditions, this is happening at the expense of generating higher blood pressure in the rest of the body.’

‘Our finding suggests that reducing activity in these blood flow-sensing astrocytes may be a way to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. It may also be a way to combat migraines and strokes.’

Disturbances to brain blood flow are a known cause in many diseases.

A sustained reduction in brain blood flow is a likely cause of cognitive decline, dementia and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease. 

The breakthrough research found a new function of tiny star-shaped cells astrocytes

Professor Paton told the New Zealand Herald: ‘When we stimulated these cells, the cells increased blood flow into the brain.’

‘Now, what we hope to do is find an intervention that works to manipulate astrocytes – by reducing the activity of these cells.’

Professor Paton hopes to start clinical trials on patients within the next three years.

His ultimate goal is to prevent brain diseases like strokes, migraines and some types of dementia.

Fellow researchers are also excited by the discovery.

‘Our new data identify astrocytes as brain blood flow sensors that are critically important for setting the normal level of systemic (arterial) blood pressure and in doing so ensures that the brain receives a sufficient amount of oxygen and nutrients to support the uninterrupted operation of the information processing machinery,’ University College London  Researcher Professor Alexander Gourine said.

The study was recently published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The revolutionary research was led by University of Auckland Professor Julian Paton

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