Understanding the blood-brain connection

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Photo of Dr. Chen Baycrest’s Canada Research Chair in Neuroimaging of Aging, Dr. Jean Chen

Baycrest’s Canada Research Chair in Neuroimaging of Aging, Dr. Jean Chen, is advancing the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine blood fluctuations in the brain.

A pioneer in this field, she recently showed that damage to our blood vessels leads to changes in our brain networks. These networks are related to every aspect of our lives, from our personalities and behaviours to diseases, including dementia. In fact, vascular disease is present in over 90 per cent of patients with dementia on autopsy.

As we age, our blood vessels naturally stiffen and lose some of their elasticity, and the amount of blood that flows to the brain decreases. However, certain conditions and lifestyle factors can worsen the damage.

“The good news is that there are ways to improve blood flow and heart health through everyday activities, such as exercise and healthy eating,” says Dr. Chen.

In combination with her ongoing research on heart and brain health, Dr. Chen is developing an innovative white matter imaging technique that could provide earlier markers of inflammation in the aging brain, allowing clinicians to prescribe interventions to prevent diseases such as dementia. Her research will also lead to a way to measure the impact of treatments and interventions on the brain, allowing us to identify those that help patients the most.

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