18 September 2020

Sheffield scientists identify potential oxygen treatment to increase brain blood flow in Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers have identified a possible treatment in models of dementia that could be rapidly translated to humans if further study confirms its benefits.

blood flow illustrated in vein or artery
  • Research found that breathing 100 per cent oxygen increased the brain blood supply in young Alzheimer’s models
  • Low blood flow in the brain is a known factor in human Alzheimer’s disease
  • Future research will test if oxygen therapy in these models at an early age can slow down disease progression
  • If further research confirms the benefits of oxygen therapy it could be translated to humans rapidly as it is a safe treatment

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have identified a possible treatment in models of dementia that could be rapidly translated to humans if further study confirms its benefits.

We currently have no treatment that stops or even slows down Alzheimer’s disease. Most research since the 1980s has focused on the build-up of amyloid proteins, which are usually cleared in a healthy brain. The build-up of these proteins in Alzheimer’s patients eventually causes brain cells to die which is when the symptoms of the disease start to present.

Recently, other theories about the condition suggest that blood flow to the brain could be an important factor. Typically, Alzheimer’s patients will have lower blood flow levels in their brains than healthy subjects. Therefore, it is suggested that reduced blood flow may be causing the disease by not clearing the built up proteins effectively.

This recent study shows that in mouse models with a form Alzheimer’s disease, blood flow in the brain is substantially greater when the animal is breathing oxygen compared to normal air.

Reduced blood flow in the brain - or hypoperfusion - is a known symptom of humans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. If further research found that oxygen therapy has an effect on disease progression in mice, this could potentially be used as an early treatment for humans with the disease.

A team of scientists at the University of Sheffield from the departments of Psychology, Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease (IICD), and the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) conducted the important research. The study took advantage of sophisticated multi-model neuroimaging and electrophysiology methods.

Lead researcher of the paper, Osman Shabir from the Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said: “The main finding from the study was, quite surprising - when the mouse models were breathing 100% per cent oxygen, their baseline brain blood volume was substantially higher than seen in control mice. When we switched to normal air that effect disappeared.

“Therefore, 100 per cent oxygen was somehow causing this increase in the blood supply in the brain of young mouse models with Alzheimer’s.

“We think that if you can elevate the baseline blood flow to the brain early in the disease using oxygen on a regular basis, you could potentially enhance the clearance pathways to remove the toxic proteins known to cause Alzheimer’s disease, thus slowing the disease down.”

He added: “I think the implications are that there’s potential for this therapy, but of course we need to do lots of further research before we can potentially start trialling this in small cohorts of early stage Alzheimer’s patients."

"First we need to develop more robust biomarkers to be able to spot the early stages of the disease effectively. Then the potential oxygen therapy, or drugs previously shown to be ineffective at a later stage of the disease, may well have a greater chance of working.’’

The team have applied for research funding to assess whether oxygen therapy can have a disease modifying effect.