Monash researchers confirm link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease

Diabetes alzheimers link

Type 2 diabetes may be associated with brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease according to latest research at Monash University.

Published today in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, this collaborative research study was conducted by researchers at the Stroke and Ageing Research Group, Monash University and Monash Health, together with researchers in Tasmania and Western Australia. The researchers looked at the relationship between type 2 diabetes and the loss of brain cells and their connections.

“For the first time, we’ve shown that type 2 diabetes is associated with increased in-vivo levels of a biomarker also found in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Geriatrician and study author Dr Chris Moran.

The study found that people with diabetes had greater levels of a protein called tau in their spinal and brain fluid.

“Greater levels of tau in spinal fluid may reflect a build-up of “tangles” within nerve cells in the brain.” said Dr Moran. 

“The presence of such tangles may interfere with critical functions of the nerve cells, causing them to die. Significantly, this nerve cell loss leads to the memory and cognitive problems similar to those found in dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. Such tangles are also found in the brains of people who have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease dementia.”

“People with type 2 diabetes have approximately double the risk of developing dementia,” said author Associate Professor Velandai Srikanth, Director of the Stroke at Ageing Research Group at Monash University.

“We also found that diabetes is associated with cortical thinning, the layer of the brain with most nerve cells. Because our study looked at participants’ data at one point in time, it does not determine whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between diabetes and the brain tangles, but follow-up study may help confirm this.”

“Nerve cells in the brain do not easily replace themselves, so it is extremely important to find ways to reduce the risk of death of current brain cells,” added Associate Professor Srikanth.

“With this discovery, we’re beginning to recognise that there are common mechanistic pathways that overlap with diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr Moran. 

“A better understanding of these pathways may help design drug targets and provides more options for treatment or prevention of dementia.”

The study was based on data from the US Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative and was supported by the National Institutes of Health.