Understanding the Connection
Often people with diabetes have brain changes that are hallmarks of both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Some researchers believe that each condition fuels the damage caused by the other. That link may occur as a result of the ways that type 2 diabetes affects the ability of the brain and other body tissues to use sugar (glucose) and respond to insulin.
“To function well, the neurons in your brain need fuel. If you don’t have a good blood supply to the brain, then you don’t get enough glucose,” says Guojun Bu, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic neuroscientist and associate director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
The reduction of blood flow to the brain caused by damaged blood vessels may be why those with diabetes have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Diabetes and Alzheimer's disease are connected in ways that aren't yet fully understood. Dr. Bu and other researchers are studying how insulin resistance may affect the brain and result in Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.
The connection between diabetes and Alzheimer's was recently discussed in the Everyday Health article, Why Some Researchers Are Calling Alzheimer’s Disease a ‘Type 3 Diabetes’. “It’s really more of a research term, rather than a medical term,” explains Dr. Bu. About 20 percent of the human population carries the riskier form of the gene APOE, called the E4. It is anticipated that more than 50 percent of Alzheimer’s cases can be linked to APOE4, according to the study, which was published in Neuron.
Learn more about Dr. Bu’s research in the video below:
Regenerative Endocrinology Research at Mayo Clinic
The endocrine cells of the pancreas are responsible for maintaining blood glucose levels. Glucose-responsive, insulin-secreting cells in the islets (beta cells) are dysfunctional in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, beta cells are destroyed, while in type 2 diabetes, they may not produce enough insulin.
The Islet Regeneration Program at Mayo Clinic is poised to develop novel therapies for diabetes. The islet regeneration researchers are taking multiple approaches to restore, protect and replace pancreatic islets.
Mayo Clinic researchers are also investigating gene therapy as a potential means of enhancing the body's natural ability to regenerate beta cells.