Alzheimer’s and diabetes link pinpointed by study

Scottish scientists who have uncovered a new link between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
Scottish scientists who have uncovered a new link between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
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Diabetes drugs could also be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, according to Scottish scientists who have uncovered a new link between the conditions.

A growing body of research suggests that patients with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but the reasons why remain unclear.

Now Aberdeen University scientists have revealed for the first time that dementia-related complications within the brain can also lead to diabetes, as opposed to the diabetes occurring first as was previously thought, according to research published in the Diabetologia journal.

Using a model of Alzheimer’s disease, the team found that increased levels of a gene involved in the production of toxic proteins in the brain led to both Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and diabetic complications.

Lead author Professor Bettina Platt said around 80 per cent of Alzheimer’s patients have some form of diabetes.

She said: “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.

“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.”

The study offers hope for a new treatments, as existing drugs are now being tested for use in both conditions.

Dr Emily Burns, of Diabetes UK, said: “Previous research has reported a link between Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes, and we know that having Type 2 diabetes can increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.

“But as it stands, we don’t know why that link exists, or which condition might come first.

“This study is helping to unravel that complex question, suggesting that having Alzheimer’s disease may in fact increase a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

“While this area of research could potentially help to combat the progression of both conditions in the future, we are currently at a very early stage and need to see if the results apply in a human setting.”