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Blocking brain damage in diabetes

Project summary

Nrf2-based approaches to preventing cognitive impairment in diabetes 

Professor Rory McCrimmon will investigate whether high blood glucose levels and regular episodes of hypoglycaemia ('hypos') contribute to accelerated aging of the brain, which is seen in some people with diabetes. His findings could reveal a way to improve the defence systems in the brain to help prevent these changes. 

Background to research

Over time, some people with diabetes show accelerated aging in the brain, which is linked to problems with thinking and memory and an increased risk of dementia. Our understanding of why this occurs is incomplete, but studies that have imaged the brain and used tests of intelligence and memory suggest that structural changes linked to aging occur in the brains of people with diabetes at a much younger age than seen in people without diabetes. They also show that these changes are linked to high blood glucose levels over time and repeated severe hypos.

Research aims

This project aims to understand in greater detail why some people with diabetes show accelerated aging of the brain. Professor Rory McCrimmon and his team will study rats and mice with Type 1 diabetes to investigate the effects of 4-6 weeks of continuous high glucose levels plus hypos two times a week on memory and the aging of the brain. They will examine specific regions of the brain to find out why changes are taking place and then will try to prevent these changes using an antioxidant chemical, which is commonly found in vegetables such as broccoli.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

The study will reveal two very important things that could be immediately relevant for people with diabetes. Firstly, it will show whether or not people with recurrent high blood glucose levels who experience hypos are vulnerable to brain damage. This is particularly a problem in children whose developing brain is even more vulnerable than an adult’s brain. Secondly, it could reveal a way of improving the defence systems in the brain to help prevent these changes, which could lead to a potential new therapy to help protect people with diabetes from this kind of damage.

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