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Diabetes And Dementia Have More In Common Than You Think

These two d-diseases – diabetes and dementia – are amongst the most deadly diseases. In addition to starting with the letter ‘d’, these two seemingly very different diseases may have a lot more in common than we ever thought.

markResearch has shown that people with Type 2 diabetes are at least twice as likely to get dementia as those without.

Researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research are at the forefront of medical research aimed at better understanding the link between diabetes and dementia, and the processes involved in the development of both diseases.

Professor Mark Febbraio, head of Garvan’s Diabetes and Metabolism division, and his team are investigating the role that chaperone proteins play at a cellular level in the progression or prevention of both diseases.

“Both diseases are age-related, and we know that both involve misfolded proteins. These same misfolded proteins occur in both the brain of a patient with dementia, and in the pancreas of a patient with Type 2 diabetes.

“The misfolded proteins prevent normal cellular activity and, in doing so, further the progression of both diseases,” said Professor Febbraio.

Garvan researchers are working to discover how the formation of these misfolded proteins (which in the brain ultimately form the plaques seen in Alzheimer’s) can be prevented. One key way of doing this appears to be by activating chaperone proteins.

All cells have an in-built ‘garbage disposal area’ where proteins that are no longer needed can be degraded. Findings show that chaperone proteins take the misfolded proteins from the area of the cell where they’re doing damage to this garbage disposal.

By stimulating these chaperone proteins, the cells affected by either disease may be able to ‘clean themselves up’, thus slowing the progress of both diseases.

Professor Febbraio explains, “The aim is to slow the progression of both diabetes and dementia and to possibly control them. It’s a tantalising prospect!

“This is fresh, new thinking and there is a huge amount of work in front of us. But just imagine if our strategy proves correct. It could have far reaching implications for the treatment of both diseases.”

The team is working on a drug compound that activates chaperone proteins. The compound, which has already shown promising results in people with Type 2 diabetes, is now being tested in mice models of Alzheimer’s disease.

Additionally, research has also shown the value of regular exercise and a healthy diet in preventing both Type 2 diabetes and dementia.

Professor Febbraio says that while medication can control (not cure) Type 2 diabetes, a healthy and active lifestyle is incredibly valuable in slowing the progress of disease.

Diabetes currently affects nearly 1 million Australians and costs our community $6 billion each year. Meanwhile, dementia, mainly Alzheimer’s disease, now afflicts 340,000 Australians, whilst a further 1.2 million are carers.

Diseases associated with ageing such as diabetes and dementia, and cancer, immune disorders, and osteoporosis represent some of the greatest health challenges we will face.

Recent diabetes and dementia research developments from the Garvan Institute:

  • Recently, Garvan researchers discovered a link between gut fat and your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. By losing just 5% of your body weight, the risk of all the metabolic complications associated with diabetes reduces.
  • In 2015, Garvan researchers defined some key characteristics of the metabolically healthy obese – those obese individuals who remain free from Type 2 diabetes and other disorders that usually associate with obesity.
  • In 2014, Clinical researchers from Garvan and St Vincent’s Hospital showed that ‘gastric banding’ brings about reversal of diabetes in some patients, and dramatic improvement of glucose tolerance in others, within 12 weeks.
  • In 2013, Garvan researchers, along with psychiatrists and neuroscientists reported the benefits of measuring depression and disease-related distress in patients with diabetes.  They showed that distress is influenced by heritable genetic changes in the way patients’ bodies handle serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood.
  • In 2013, a Garvan study found that plaque, long considered to be the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the last events to occur in the Alzheimer’s brain.


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Alana Lowes

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