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Wake Forest University study links Type 2 diabetes to Alzheimer's disease

Diabetes tools used to check blood glucose.
Nataliya Vaitkevich
Diabetes tools used to check blood glucose.

Researchers at Wake Forest University say they’ve discovered a connection between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Diabetes is a disease that affects a person's metabolism and how they process sugar. Alzheimer's is made up of the toxic buildup of two proteins called amyloid and tau. Those proteins disrupt normal brain function that involves thinking and memory. The researchers used mouse models to test blood sugar levels and study how it affects the mind.

“We found that when the blood sugar of these animals were unchecked, that it led to more of the buildup of these toxic proteins that give rise to Alzheimer's disease, specifically, those amyloid plaques,” said Shannon Macauley, one of the researchers at Wake Forest’s School of Medicine.

The mechanism inside the brain that gets disrupted is called KATP channels. This process links high blood sugar to an increased production of amyloid, one of the two toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer's.

“They act kind of like a metabolic sensor for this cell, so they can sense how much energy a cell or an organ has," Macauley said. “And, what we found is that these sensors seem to be impaired or altered in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's disease.”

Macauley said some ways to help prevent this is by getting blood sugar levels checked regularly, especially for people who are pre-diabetic. Exercising and cutting out soda or sugary processed foods could help too. She added that diabetes tends to affect more people in underserved communities.

According to the state health department, more than 72,000 are estimated to be diagnosed with diabetes annually in North Carolina.

Sharryse Piggott is WUNC’s PM Reporter.
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