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Drugs used to control glucose levels in diabetes could alleviate Alzheimer's disease

22-Jun-16
Article By: Sue Learner, Editor

Alzheimer’s disease can lead to diabetes according to new research, which claims drugs used to control glucose levels in diabetes could also be used to alleviate the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

This study from Aberdeen University is the first study of its kind to show that Alzheimer’s disease can lead to diabetes, as opposed to diabetes occurring first as was previously thought.

The paper, published in the journal Diabetologia, found for the first time that dementia-related complications within the brain can also lead to changes in glucose handling and ultimately diabetes. This is very different to what was previously thought - that diabetes begins with a malfunction in the pancreas or a high fat, high sugar diet.

Professor Bettina Platt led with the research, forming a unique collaboration between her Alzheimer’s research team and the diabetes research team led by Professor Mirela Delibegovic. The teams were keen to investigate why the two diseases are so commonly found together in older patients.

The researchers found that increased levels of a gene involved in the production of toxic proteins in the brain not only led to Alzheimer’s -like symptoms, but also to the development of diabetic complications.

Professor Bettina Platt said: “Until now, we always assumed that obese people get type 2 diabetes and then are more likely to get dementia - we now show that actually it also works the other way around.”

She added: “Many people are unaware of the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, but the fact is that around 80 per cent of people with Alzheimer’s disease also have some form of diabetes or disturbed glucose metabolism. This is hugely relevant as Alzheimer’s is in the vast majority of cases not inherited, and lifestyle factors and comorbidities must therefore be to blame.

“Our research teams are particularly interested in the impact of lifestyle related factors in dementia and by collaborating with experts in diabetes and metabolism, we have been able to investigate the nature of the link in great detail.

“Until now, we always assumed that obese people get type 2 diabetes and then are more likely to get dementia – we now show that actually it also works the other way around.”

It was previously believed that diabetes starts in the pancreas and liver, often because of an unhealthy diet, but the study shows changes in the brain triggering diabetes.

Professor Platt believes that the study provides a new therapeutic angle into Alzheimer’s disease, saying “some of the compounds that are used for obesity and diabetic deregulation might potentially be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients as well. The good news is that there are a number of new drugs available right now which we are testing to see if they would reverse both Alzheimer’s and diabetes symptoms. We will also be able to study whether new treatments developed for Alzheimer’s can improve both, the diabetic and cognitive symptoms.”

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