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Untangling the link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease

Project summary

People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but we don’t know why. Dr Mudher believes that type 2 diabetes could have a negative effect on a protein in the brain, called ‘Tau’. She wants to find out more about this interaction to see if it can be stopped, to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people with type 2 diabetes.

Background to research

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating condition that causes memory loss, confusion and disorientation. Previous studies with large groups of people with type 2 diabetes suggest there is a connection between these two conditions, as older people with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. But it’s not yet clear why.

People with type 2 diabetes experience insulin resistance, where the cells in the body don’t respond properly to the hormone insulin. This causes blood glucose levels to gradually rise. Dr Mudher thinks this insulin resistance could be contributing to the development Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Mudher believes insulin resistance could influence the activity of a protein called Tau, which stops working properly in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Tau is altered so that it forms rope-like structures, called ‘tangles’. Usually cells in the brain are able to remove these tangles, but insulin resistance may stop this ‘untangling’ from happening.

Research aims

Dr Mudher and her team will start by studying how the brain usually removes Tau tangles, using fruit flies. They will then look at how insulin might play a role in preventing the removal of Tau tangles, and see if this can be reversed using drugs.

Finally, they will study brains donated by people with type 2 diabetes, some of whom also had Alzheimer’s disease. This way, they can see if their earlier discoveries in fruit flies relate to human brains. This will help to confirm how insulin resistance could cause Tau to stay tangled in people with type 2 diabetes.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research will shed light on how type 2 diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding the connection in more detail will help scientists to develop new therapies to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people with type 2 diabetes. It may also help healthcare professionals to provide the best advice on how to manage both conditions.

Project adopted by:

Diabetes UK local groups: Southampton and District; Northhampton; Guildford and South West Surrey

Individuals: Margaret Stubbs

Trusts: The Andor Charitable Trust; The George A Moore Foundation
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