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expert reaction to study looking at glucose and Alzheimer’s disease

New research published in Scientific Reports investigates the underlying mechanism linking an association between diabetes and Alzheimer’s, suggesting excess glucose levels may be involved.


Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“We know there is a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and this new study provides evidence for a process that could be linking the two conditions. People with diabetes have high levels of glucose in the blood and the researchers highlighted one way this sugar could be affecting the brain in Alzheimer’s. While this is potentially an important mechanism, the researchers did not look at the blood sugar levels of the individuals who donated their brains to this research nor do we know whether they had diabetes. Further research will need to fully explore this link, and any potential effect of a diet high in sugar.”


Dr Tara Spires-Jones, Reader and Chancellor’s Fellow, and Interim Director at Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This study shows a potential reason for the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people who have diabetes.  The authors saw changes in proteins in the brains of people who had Alzheimer’s disease that were likely caused by excess glucose, one of the hallmarks of diabetes.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a complicated disease and many factors can increase your risk including diabetes and a poor diet. We do not yet understand how these factors increase the risk of disease.

“This work does not suggest that sugar directly causes Alzheimer’s, but it’s a good start in understanding the increased risk of Alzheimer’s with diabetes.  A better understanding of this type of risk will help scientists develop strategies to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease in the future. Until then, we can all benefit from healthy diet and lifestyle to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s and a host of other diseases.”


Dr Mark Dallas, Lecturer in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, University of Reading, said:

“This study looks to identify chemical changes, induced by increase glucose levels, within Alzheimer’s brains. They identify a disease modified protein, MIF, which is involved in our immune system. While the study suggests possible impacts of this modified protein, the next challenge will be to identify what the ‘tipping point’ is and how it relates to brain health. Interestingly, this study again indicates that an immune response and indeed the cells that mount this response could provide greater insight into the early stages of Alzheimer’s.”


* ‘Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor is subjected to glucose modification and oxidation in Alzheimer’s Disease’ by Omar Kassaar et al. was published in Scientific Reports on Thursday 23 February 2017. 


Declared interests

Dr Tara Spires-Jones: “I am chair of the grant review board at Alzheimer’s Research UK.”

Dr Mark Dallas: “Dr Mark Dallas receives funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK.”

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