The Open University and the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience have been awarded £750,000 by The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to research the effects of ageing on the blood vessels of the brain.
The researchers, working with the University of Sheffield, will look at how ageing changes the specialised functions of the cells which form blood vessels in the brain and to explore the mechanisms that lead to disease of brain blood vessels, such as small regulatory molecules called microRNAs that may induce dysfunction in the blood vessels.
Senior Lecturer in Cellular Neuroscience at The Open University Dr Nacho Romero, who is leading the study, said: “If we can find out when these changes occur and what role the microRNAs play, we can provide molecular targets for therapies aimed at preventing ageing of the blood vessels and possibly cerebrovascular disease later on in life.”
The researchers will look specifically at what age brain dysfunction usually begins and how much microRNAs contribute to this process.
According to Dr Romero, the incidence of cerebrovascular disease such as stroke increases with age and an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke annually.
“We already know that the blood vessels of the brain behave differently from those in other organs in order to maintain the uniform environment nerve cells require to function properly,” he said. “We also know that as people age, the endothelial cells which are the gatekeepers of the brain become leaky and this contributes to illness in old age.”
Notes to Editors
For further information about Dr Romero’s research, visit: http://science-people.open.ac.uk/i.romero
About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has more than 250,000 current students, including over 15,000 overseas.
The OU came top for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey this year, and has been in the top three universities every year since the survey began in 2005. In 2011/12 it had a 93 per cent satisfaction rating. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.
In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) the Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.
Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had more than 23 million visits, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded over 56 million downloads. The OU has a 41 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Frozen Planet, Bang Goes the Theory, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.